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BHA vigilance is successfully containing drug use in the sport

After becoming embroiled in a “drug scandal” Hollie Doyle was given one month suspension from racing. So, what happened?

One mistake or an addiction? Is it any of the racing authorities’ business either way? These are the questions that are surrounding record-breaking jockey Hollie Doyle this past week. After becoming embroiled in a “drug scandal” she was given a one month ban from racing, suspended for 12 months. So, what happened? And what does the result say, if anything, for the sport? We explore the story.

Who is Hollie Doyle?

Doyle is a 26-year-old British flat rider that has blazed a trail and broken through the glass ceiling that is so much harder for girls to cut through than lads. She was the first female to ride five winners in a single day in 2020 at Windsor, set a record for the most wins in a British flat racing season by a female jockey in 2019, and was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2020. So, it’s safe to say she’s well regarded in the sport, as she has been said to break gender barriers in the sport and earned herself a reputation as one of the best British horse racing jockeys. Think of her recent ride of Trueshan in the Doncaster Cup at the Leger meeting if you’re in any doubt over her analytical racing brain. If you are a horse racing fan, no doubt you’ve put a bet on her on the 32Red horse racing pages.

So, imagine her shock when it turns out a painkiller, the same ones you take for a headache, might have brought all that crashing down and tarnished her reputation.

What caused the upset?

In a statement covering the “scandal”, Doyle explained that she had taken an Ibuprofen purchased while abroad to treat pain following surgery on her elbow in February. The previous January, a racing fall at Wolverhampton resulted in her crashing to the floor on her elbow and the unfortunate death of her mount, The Perfect Crown.

In April this year she tested positive for the banned substance Dihydrocodeine, a painkiller that is found in some branded painkillers but typically not Ibuprofen. Doyle had purchased Pabron Ace Pro tablets that she thought only contained Ibuprofen and Paracetamol. In a statement Doyle clarified that she had checked the ingredients with a translator app that failed to show the banned substance.

So, it was an honest accident. For that reason, the British Horseracing Authority accepted the explanation she gave and reduced her suspension from two months to one. However, she will be sanctioned if it turns out she fails another test in the next 12 months.

The judicial panel chair, Sarah Crowther KC, concluded the fast-track hearing by saying that in light of the investigation, and the accidental nature of the discretion, that lowering the penalty to one month was appropriate. She went on to say that “the breach was unintended” and that Doyle has been co-operative with the investigation.

Are there other implications for the sport at large?

Dihydrocodeine is a banned substance due to its opioid elements. It can aid in pain management but is stronger than paracetamol and ibuprofen; however it can be addictive. There’s no question here that Doyle was seeking some form of recurrent fix, and her explanation has been rightly deemed reasonable.

There are two factors at play here: the sport and the athlete. If Doyle were to continue on with her doses of Dihydrocodeine, she may become dependent on it and might begin to misuse it. The use of opioids, especially excessively, can lead to lots of health risks that include impaired judgment, drowsiness, and impaired coordination. All of these would be vital to the performance of any jockey and could impact the safety of them and other riders too.

Additionally, opioids are regulated by the BHA not only for the safety of their jockeys but for the fairness of the sport. The euphoria that might result from opioid use might give a jockey a psychological advantage, and the extra strength painkiller might be the boost a jockey needs to push through any pain or anxiety, or none, enough to give a better performance.

British racing has one of the most rigorous drug testing regimes for horses and humans among its peer group of racing jurisdictions. Indeed, their ongoing testing regime has found regular infringements, that resulted in Oisin Murphy’s suspension for 3 months back in 2021, Adrian McCarthy the same year, and even the peerless Frankie Dettori, who served a 6 month ban in 2012 for cocaine abuse.

There’s no evidence however that drug use is any more prevalent in the sport than in wider society. At least for so-called soft drugs, their use is sadly so commonplace in social occasions as to have become normal. In Doyle’s case, the use of palliative drugs should not be seen as indicative of a wider trend and British racing can take considerable pride in its successful testing regime to keep our athletes safe.


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