BHA Investigation into Drug 'Sungate' Concludes

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced Aug. 7 the conclusion of the investigation into the use of "Sungate," a veterinary product which contains stanozolol, an anabolic steroid and, therefore, a prohibited substance under the authority's rules of racing.

The trainers interviewed as part of the investigation have been informed that the BHA will not issue charges against them.

The BHA became aware of Sungate and its use in horses in training following a visit to trainer Gerard Butler's yard in Feb. 2013 as part of its drug testing in training program. From that visit, nine horses produced positive stanozolol tests. It became apparent that a veterinary practice, which had legally imported Sungate under license into the United Kingdom, was prescribing this product and had recommended its initial administration to horses in training.

The BHA subsequently met with representatives of that veterinary practice, where they learned that it had been recommended to other trainers, as well, that Sungate be administered to their horses. Upon becoming aware of the nature of and use of the product on horses in training the BHA notified the National Trainers Federation (NTF) of the product’s name and that it contained a prohibited substance; the NTF subsequently distributed this information to all of their members.

In order to establish the extent of the use of the product, the BHA identified and met with 38 trainers who use the same veterinary practice. The investigation identified that 43 horses from nine trainers had been treated with Sungate by veterinary surgeons and on veterinary advice since early 2010. These administrations were recorded in the medication records required to be kept by trainers in accordance with racing rules and also in the clinical histories of the horses which were obtained from the veterinary practice with the trainers’ consent.

Based on the information gathered during the investigation the BHA concluded that there are no grounds for charges to be brought.

Adam Brickell, BHA director of integrity, legal, and risk, said, “Having carefully considered our options under the rules, including taking legal advice and reviewing previous cases, we have concluded that there would no reasonable prospect of a disciplinary panel finding that these trainers have breached the rules of racing.

“Under the current rules of racing, in the absence of any positive samples, charges could only be brought in cases such as this if there is evidence that the trainer concerned has acted in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct, or good reputation of the sport," he continued. "In these cases there was no such evidence. This is because the nine trainers in question only allowed their horses to be administered with the product on the advice of—and by—veterinary surgeons to treat orthopedic conditions.

"All licensed trainers are reminded that if a prohibited substance is found to be present in the system of any horse under their care or control, that would constitute a breach of the rules of racing," he stressed. "They are also reminded that it is their responsibility as licensed trainers to be familiar with the rules that govern which substances can and cannot be given to horses under their care and control. Due to the number of individuals and horses involved, and the volume of records reviewed, the process to ascertain the extent to which this product has been used has necessarily been a lengthy one. However we acknowledge that the cooperation of the trainers in this investigation has made the process less difficult than it might have been.”

Jenny Hall, BVSc, MRCVS, interim chief veterinary officer for the BHA, added, “It is important to note that the product at the centre of this investigation is a treatment designed to be injected into a horse’s joints, and is very different to that which might be used in an intramuscular anabolic steroid product.

“The recommended dose of Sungate varies according to the size of the joint to be treated, but a typical intramuscular injectable anabolic steroid product has around ten times the concentration of anabolic agent compared to Sungate, and a recommended dosage would generally contain around fifty times the volume of anabolic agent administered in one Sungate treatment," she continued. “In addition, it follows that when a veterinary product has been used to treat an orthopedic condition there is a recovery period associated with the treatment before a horse can return to the racecourse. The clinical histories of the horses in question confirmed that in each case where Sungate had been administered by veterinary surgeons it had indeed been done so to treat an orthopedic condition.

“However, it remains a matter of serious concern that a veterinary practice recommended and administered a product containing anabolic steroids, which are prohibited substances under the rules of racing, to these horses,” she concluded.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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