Top trainer John Gosden hits out at BBC for making racing its 'next scapegoat' in drugs test row

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Top trainer John Gosden hits out at BBC for making racing its 'next scapegoat' in drugs test row - GETTY IMAGES
Top trainer John Gosden hits out at BBC for making racing its 'next scapegoat' in drugs test row - GETTY IMAGES

It is the antithesis of a performance-enhancing doping scandal, not least because the drug in question is designed to tranquilise horses rather than make them run faster.

Given ketamine is not intended for use on humans, champion trainer John Gosden was at a loss to explain how his star equine had microscopic traces in her system.

However, after his sheepish stable groom came forward as authorities launched investigations, the truth emerged: the young assistant's recreational drug habit was to blame.

A contamination probe had been launched by racing authorities after a urine test on his horse, Franconia, who had won a race at Newbury in June last year.

There had never been any suspicion on the part of authorities that the drug had been used to boost performance, but it had taken Mr Gosden a lengthy investigation to unravel the mystery.

"It was through an employee," said Mr Gosden, who has trained more than 3,000 winners worldwide including at the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Derby, the Arc and the King George.

"He was a rather vulnerable person who came to me. His life had somewhat imploded. He'd been thrown out of a job very young, and... during the lockdown he probably got in the habit of messing around with this ketamine, which is obviously used as a drug that sends you into a pleasant trance state or something."

Although the groom had "cleaned himself properly" when he took Franconia out to exercise, he "used to keep the stuff in his wallet".

"There was none in there, but there was residual in there," Mr Gosden, originally from Hove, added, explaining that a credit card may have come into contact with the "bridle on the filly".

'Racing is under siege'

A British Horseracing Authority panel accepted this version of events this week as they fined Mr Gosden £500 but cleared of intentional wrongdoing.

A disciplinary panel accepted the most probable source was accidental contamination by the unidentified groom, who admitted to using the drug on the weekend before the race.

During the hearing, Mr Gosden had been critical of a report on BBC Radio 4's Today, which speculated his licence might be suspended. The BHA have since said the maximum fine he could have received was £5,000 for the low-level contamination charge. However, sources close to the corporation say in response that it was not known prior to the hearing that the alleged offence was “low level”.

Mr Gosden, however, cited the report alongside recent claims of bullying raised by the jockey Bryony Frost as evidence his sport was now under siege. "Due to the recent case of bullying and the Bryony Frost issue, now racing has become the next scapegoat," he told the panel.

"My name was up as having given ketamine to a racehorse, champion trainer looking at a potentially lengthy ban, it was very dramatic stuff on Radio 4.

"Everybody who won't bother to read the result of this inquiry will all assume that I go round giving ketamine to horses to make them win races. I can tell you it was pretty shocking to listen to. It puts a stain on your character."

Mr Gosden appeared on the Today programme on Friday to explain how a "rather vulnerable" employee was to blame for the ketamine. He denied there was a specific problem with recreational drug use in racing, saying instead that it was "endemic" in society.

The trainer was fined for taking most but not all "reasonable precautions" to prevent contamination of the drug, though the sanction was unusually low because of what the panel described as "exceptional circumstances".

Franconia was also disqualified from the race which she won and the £17,296 of prize money will be redistributed. The trainer said he had been gratified by the groom's frankness in coming forward to confess their occasional habit.

Asked what disciplinary action he had taken, the trainer said: "I should probably have fired him. Maybe I should have done." Mr Gosden, representing himself at the hearing, said that the case had been an "alarm call" and was "not great for our stables".

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