The UK horseracing regulator probing the Newmarket doping scandal denied it was too close to Dubai’s ruling Maktoum family, but said their continued commitment to British racing would be “great” for the sport.
On Thursday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE prime minister, sought to stem the scandal of 22 horses in his Godolphin stables testing positive for banned anabolic steroids by announcing a ban on the use of such substances in the UAE.
In a statement that signalled his intent to continue investing in UK racing, Sheikh Mohammed promised that his tainted stables in Suffolk would “go from strength to strength and lead, once again, adherence to the highest standards in that gracious sport”.
The British Horseracing Authority, which last month disqualified Godolphin trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni for eight years after he admitted to instructing staff to dope horses, welcomed Sheikh Mohammed’s statement.
Mr al-Zarooni is appealing the length of the ban, which will drag the scandal into the summer.
Paul Bittar, chief executive of the BHA, told the Financial Times: “The brand of Godolphin looks like it will stay, and his commitment to Godolphin in British racing will remain.”
However, the scandal has raised questions about the BHA’s relationship with UK racing’s biggest patron.
After 15 horses were last month banned for six months for testing positive for steroids, the crisis widened this week as seven more horses from the Newmarket stables were also revealed to have been doped.
Mr Bittar admitted: “We find ourselves the regulator and the chief advocate of the sport, and it’s a fine line to wear at certain times. But they are not mutually exclusive.”
He said if Sheikh Mohammed was committed to Godolphin in the UK, “that’s great from the sport’s perspective”.
Sheikh Mohammed had an investment of 500 horses and employed hundreds of people, said Mr Bittar.
“Naturally, you want them to be a part of the sport. But that never conflicts or compromises our role as regulator. Are we too close to Godolphin? No, not at all.”
Mr Bittar praised Godolphin’s conduct in the BHA’s ongoing doping investigation, adding this was “quite separate” from Godolphin’s internal investigation.
On Monday, the BHA also said that tests on horses overseen by senior Godolphin trainer Saaed bin Suroor had come back negative. This paves the way for the BHA to approve his application to take over Moulton Paddocks, where the 22 doped horses were stabled, which have been locked down by Godolphin since the scandal erupted.
But Mr Bittar said it was not simply a case of allowing Godolphin to continue as before, pointing out that its horses would be subject to increased testing, that the licence for Mr bin Suroor would be temporary and that Godolphin would appoint a new trainer for Moulton Paddocks.
The BHA is looking for an international agreement on laws tightening the use of steroids. Mr Bittar welcomed Sheikh Mohammed’s order criminalising the import, sale, purchase and use of anabolic steroids in all horse-related sports with immediate effect.