Licensed trainers can continue to operate in one horse sport while sitting out a suspension for doping in another. But now the FEI believes it is time for some joined-up thinking and will ask racing jurisdictions if they can recognise each others’ bans.
The move follows the FEI’s latest provisional suspension of UAE endurance and thoroughbred racing trainer Ismail Mohammed since February 3. He has been suspended or fined for multiple anti-doping infringement by three different governing bodies since 2005.
Since February 3, all his registered FEI endurance horses have become ineligible to compete until 30 days after a new trainer is assigned, which includes four horses nominated for this weekend’s FEI world endurance championship in Abu Dhabi.
Yet racing rules will allow Mohammed to continue training Flat horses from his long-time bases in Dubai and Newmarket, UK. He has saddled 16 runners under Emirates Racing Authority (ERA) rules since being stood down by the FEI.
A FEI spokesman told Horsesport.com: “While the FEI cooperates extensively with various horseracing authorities on a range of issues through the IHSC [International Horse Sports Confederation], the respective sanctioning systems are not aligned and there is currently no provision for mutual recognition of sanctions. The FEI will look at the legal aspects of the potential recognition and application of sanctions between FEI and racing authorities and will discuss with the IHSC [International Horse Sports Confederation] at its next meeting.”
The FEI’s initiative was welcomed by World Horse Welfare (WHW), official advisor to both the FEI and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). WHW chief executive Roly Owers said the current scenario was “an utter nonsense,” adding: “Any regulatory environment must put equine welfare at the centre of its approach. And this simply cannot be the case if a sport allows someone who repeatedly abuses horse welfare in another code to carry on regardless. If there are legal barriers to taking such action, then these need to be changed, as inaction is as indefensible as it is unacceptable.”
In another recent case, governing bodies were powerless to intervene when an endurance trainer provisionally suspended by the FEI had some of his horses re-registered with a trainer who was simultaneously serving a two-year racing authority ban for doping.
Non-alignment of doping rules is controversial in other sports, too. There was nothing to stop the disgraced Lance Armstrong from entering swimming meets in the US in 2012, while under federal investigation for doping in cycling. Swimming governing body FINA intervened, and Armstrong withdrew. Eventually Armstrong was handed a life ban from all sports following its code by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). But WADA has no power over the raft of horse sports because the FEI is its only equine signatory.
Previous FEI rules also made it possible for endurance trainers to escape censure for positive samples returned before 2019. In thoroughbred racing, the trainer has strict liability for anti-doping infringements but in equestrian, the rider is the prime Person Responsible. Riding a “strange” endurance horse on competition day, especially in the Middle East concerned the FEI Tribunal increasingly from the early 2000s, and it noted that the real people, ie trainers and/or stable staff, responsible for positive samples went unpunished.
The first time the Tribunal highlighted this was in the 2005 case of Alice Beet who visited Bahrain from the UK for a youth endurance ride and ended up suspended for three months after her borrowed ride, Harmatan de Lozere, tested positive to the corticosteroid Dexamethasone. Ismail Mohammed was the trainer but, at the time, not liable under FEI rules. That scenario continued for nearly a decade, apart from 2006 when the FEI applied special powers to suspend Mohammed as the trainer because the horse’s rider was aged under 18 and so not liable. Okara tested positive to Guanabenz and Hydroxy-guanabenz, which lower heart-rate, at the European Open championship in France. Mohammed was suspended for 12 months, a heavy penalty back then. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced it to eight months on appeal.
It was not until January 2019 that joining FEI endurance trainers in anti-doping sanctions became mandatory, following a lot of work by the FEI legal department.
Aside from the potential new FEI case, Ismail Mohammed has been disciplined seven times by three different jurisdictions since 2016.
In 2016, at Jebel Ali in the UAE, racehorse Expert tested positive to minoxidil, a vasodilator. Stewards of the Emirates Racing Authority (ERA) took into account Mohammed’s “blemish-free” record [in racing] before fining him AED 40,000. Later that year they handed down a AED 50,000 fine for a procaine positive returned by Stamford, winner of the Meydan Handicap at Jimna Lake, China.
In 2017 he was suspended for two months by the FEI for several controlled substances and banned stimulant paraxanthine in two endurance horses, Preaum de Paute and Rafik de Kerpont, attributed to contaminated feed from the Zabeel feedmill.
In 2019, Mohammed was again suspended by the FEI, this time for two years following a testosterone (anabolic steroid) positive the previous year from world number one endurance horse Shaddad.
The following year ERA fined him £17,000 for eight counts of failing to stand down horses for seven mandatory days after shockwave treatment. One horse had shockwave treatment to both front suspensory ligaments three days and then again “nil” days before racing.
The same year the BHA’s judicial panel cleared Mohammed of intentional ketamine use on Amazour but fined him £1,000 for making insufficient effort to supervise stable staff, also noting that parts of Amazour’s vet record had been altered. It was alleged the positive could have resulted from recreational drug use by stable staff in Newmarket, UK.
Last year Mohammed was suspended two months under the FEI’s penalty point process after endurance horse Gheerulla Galaxy sustained a Serious Injury at Windsor, UK. He unsuccessfully appealed against the points and has now taken the matter to CAS.
His latest FEI anti-doping proceedings involve a controlled medications positive returned by JM de Chocolate in a 120km endurance race in Dubai last month. A first controlled meds offence can be fast-tracked with a fine, but the FEI confirmed that Mohammed is provisionally suspended because of his past record.