Professional athletes’ use of illegal performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is a pertinent issue in sport today. With the Russian athletes doping scandal making the headlines of 2016, their ban from the 2017 World Athletics Championships highlights the value of clean, ethical sporting competition. However, a sport that has stayed comparatively out of the limelight concerning issues of illegal PEDs is horse racing. The administration of performance enhancing drugs to equines is an issue to the sport; yet perhaps not receiving deserved media attention.
This is of great interest, especially when we consider that sport as an industry has the economic value of approximately £20 billion in the UK, with horse racing contributing £1.1 billion. Further, racing is the second best attended sport in Britain, after football, and enables a lucrative betting industry.
‘Milkshaking’ is fundamentally illegal doping of equines. It is the administration of alkalising agents to horses in order to improve their performance. By using a ‘milkshake’ the lactic acid produced by the horse whilst running is neutralised, therefore preventing muscle fatigue and improving performance. It is the same idea as bicarbonate loading, which athletes in short-duration, high intensity sports use. Interestingly, the World Anti-Doping Association does not specifically ban bicarbonate loading for use by human athletes. However, the British Horse Racing Association (BHA) has deemed use of ‘milkshakes’ as inherently anti-competitive.
The BHA first successfully prosecuted use of ‘milkshakes’ in 2009, showing that it is a relatively new issue.
British Horse Racing Association’s stance
Equine welfare is a top priority to the BHA, demonstrated in their campaign ‘The Horse Comes First.’ They have a zero tolerance policy to doping. Section 2.5.1 of the Equine Anti-Doping Rule Violations states that administration by any person to a horse of any prohibited substance is prohibited at all times. Similar to UK Anti-Doping, BHA has extensive regulations on the prohibition of performance enhancing drugs. There are penalties for failing to file horses’ whereabouts (2.8.1) and for missed tests (2.8.2).
Schedule 1 outlines the prohibited list. ‘Milkshaking’ is banned under Section 11 ‘Alkanisation.’ Further, part 4 to 27 of the General Manual states that it is an offence to administer a prohibited substance to a horse with the intention of affecting its racing performance.
However, ‘milkshaking’ is particularly difficult to identify. It will be administered approximately four hours before the race and will not be traceable once the race is completed.
Further, one of the more concerning findings of ‘milkshaking’ is its ability to mask the presence of other PEDs. This highlights the need to maintain funding for research into testing. It must be noted that the BHA have been largely successful in deterring use of PEDs in the sport so far.
A disciplinary panel case in 2012 heard of licensed trainer, James Boyle, administering a ‘milkshake’ to horse, ‘New Den,’ to improve the horse’s performance in Lingfield. New Den was required to give a sample on the day of the race, which was found to have the prohibited ‘milkshake’ substances in. This was in breach of Rule C(50) that a sample must not contain a prohibited substance. Boyle was fined £3,500 and restricted from entering races for 2 months.
This case highlights another difficult implication of investigations surrounding illegal use of equine PEDs: The involvement of many parties. ‘New Den’ was owned in partnership, which included the breeder. The vet, Mike Byers, had prescribed a ‘remedy for cramps and stiffness’ earlier in the week, which was then administered by the head stable lass in the morning. Then, the rider rode New Den in the race. Whilst all but Boyle escaped liability due presumably to their lack of knowledge about the situation, this highlights how difficult the investigation can be without an answering equine! Further it shows the many possible liabilities. We can also see how many high value claims of damages could arise after such an issue.
Implications on the betting industry
Whilst previous cases of ‘milkshaking’ have not involved bettor knowledge, illegal betting, race fixing and illegal doping could work hand in hand, with trainers providing knowledge to bettors on when they intend to dope equines. Unfairly informed betting would hugely cost the betting industry, a large industry in the UK with punters spending an estimated £10 billion annually.
This year it was announced by the Government that the future Levy to be charged from April 2017 is 10% on all betting operators’ gross profits on British racing. This will ensure that gambling enterprises that take bets from British consumers will have to pay 10% of their gross profits to support the equine industry.
In the interest of clean betting, which is of priority to both the betting industry and the BHA, it would perhaps be of interest to invest some of this money into further anti-doping research.
‘Milkshaking’ also poses some ethical issues surrounding cruelty to animals. To administer the ‘milkshake’ requires a process called tubing. This is when a tube is inserted into the horse’s nose and runs into its’ stomach. Whilst supposedly this does not cause pain to the horse, it is interesting to consider it alongside The Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal (Section 4.1). Further, The Riding Establishments Act 1970, Section 2(5), states that horses being kept, as part of an equine establishment, will be adequately supplied with suitable food. Again there’s a question surrounding the suitability of ‘milkshakes.’
‘Milkshaking’ could merely be seen as bicarbonate loading and perhaps far from amongst the most concerning of offences, especially in comparison to the use of steroids in the sporting industry more widely. However, is ‘milkshaking’ a steppingstone to more serious doping violations?
The BHA has adopted a strict approach to keeping the sport clean, implementing a zero tolerance to anabolic steroids policy in 2015. However, this perhaps demonstrates BHA forecasting an increase in the use and range of PEDs in horse racing.