Morphine Positives in Britain Traced to Feed

Be My Royal, winner of the one the biggest races of the National Hunt season to date, faces disqualification as he is among a rash of positive drug tests for traces of morphine in British and Irish races due to contaminated feed.

Successful in the £105,000 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup Chase at Newbury in late November, the Irish-trained horse, from the yard of Willie Mullins, is one of 28 runners to date in Britain to return a morphine positive to tests carried out by the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory at Fordham near Newmarket, England.

These results, which include 13 winners, are currently being double checked by overseas laboratories in the normal way and the results of these B sample tests are likely to start arriving shortly. The Jockey Club is expecting the British positives to rise above 28.

The situation in Ireland is that nine horses have tested positive to morphine, eight winners and a second, and the B samples have been confirmed in eight cases.

Irish feed company Red Mills has identified and isolated the source of the traces of morphine, which its says were too low to \ affect the performances of the horses involved.

Red Mills reports that the morphine was naturally occurring in one of the feed inputs and more sophisticated testing of that input, which it has not specified though some speculate on poppies in a batch of barley, is now taking place and its racehorse feeds are safe to use. All the contaminated batch has been recalled and over the Christmas break Red Mills wrote to all its customers.

European racing authorities currently have a blanket ban on morphine with no threshold level because the drug is a potent pain killer and could improve a horse's performance.

Apparently, the British tests have revealed wide variations in the levels -- albeit at fairly low concentrations -- of morphine which is derived from certain species of poppy.

Red Mills, which faces costly compensation claims from owners, breeders, trainers and jockeys, argues that the level of testing at racing laboratories is so sophisticated that feed companies are on a hiding to nothing, being asked to screen ingredients to the same level and only usually finding out about problems after they have occurred.

The company has called for threshold levels to be introduced and the European wide scientific liaison group which discusses such matters is in fact next month looking into thresholds for banned substances which have no impact on performance but this does not include morphine.

Red Mills has also put pressure on the Irish and British racing authorities not to disqualify the horses involved because nothing was done intentionally or maliciously but this initiative is doomed to failure. The Irish Turf Club held its first enquiry on January 9, with Kadiskar disqualified from a Fairyhouse Maiden Hurdle which he won on December 1.