Trendy hats, suave punters and thoroughbreds will be on show during the prestigious Indian Derby at the Mahalaxmi Race Course on Sunday, but behind all that glitz, the organisers will be battling a silent menace — doping in horse racing. For the first time, the movement of horses at the course have been restricted, and CCTV cameras will focus more on activity inside the stables. And the Royal Western Indian Race Club (RWITC), the hosts, have called in experts from Australia and France to develop a “systematic approach” to collecting samples and testing.
The rules have been tightened after a filly owned by the current chairman of the club tested positive for an anabolic steroid in an out-of-competition test in December 2013, and six other horses came under the scanner for doping infringements last year.
“We follow the rules set by the international authorities, but our ways are still 25 years old. Technology has improved, so we’re going to collaborate with scientists and veterinarian surgeons from here and abroad to develop a suitable procedure and follow the best practices,” said Khushroo Dhunjibhoy, chairman, RWITC, which is one of the oldest horse-racing clubs in India.
Dhunjibhoy owns Bull Eye, the filly that tested positive for Boldenone two years ago. Bulls Eye left the Nanoli stud farm in Lonavala after clearing a dope test but tested positive before entering renowned trainer Pesi Shroff’s stables in Mumbai.
The tightened rules have ensured that the horses are constantly under watch this time. For instance, the movement of Mumbai-based thoroughbreds between the shelters at the race course and their stud farms have been restricted. Earlier, the horses could move freely between the race course’s shelters and the stud farms for recovery or even training, with permission from the RWITC stewards.
The RWITC is also trying to update its testing methods, and hopes to conclusively prove whether or not the six horses that came under the scanner last year actually flouted rules or were affected by contaminated ground water. Established safeguards, including random testing of horses, are already in place, but the club’s former chairman Vivek Jain said that “no stone should be left unturned in this fight” against doping. “The Indian Derby draws crowds and is a big event. Any untoward incident will tarnish the image of the sport in India,” he added.
Doping in horse racing isn’t an India-specific problem, though. Two years ago, famed Dubai-based horse racing stable Godolphin was at the heart of a major scandal when 11 of its horses tested positive for banned anabolic steroids. Presently, investigations are on in Australia regarding five horses failing drug tests.