The Law and Penalties for Drug Use in Horse Racing

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

 

Last week, a licensed thoroughbred trainer was charged by the Queensland Racing Crime Squad for allegedly injecting a horse with a substance before it was scheduled to run in Innisfail back in September. The horse, named Oakland Avenger, was set to race at Atherton, a regional racing event in far north Queensland.

The Innisfail man was charged for administering a substance to the horse, in particular against the provisions of the Racing Integrity Act 2016, which states that a person must not use a prohibited thing on, or interfere with a licensed animal. The Racing Integrity Act exists to safeguard the welfare of animals, to ensure the integrity of persons involved in the racing industry, and to manage matters relating to betting and sporting contingencies.

Investigations into the criminal charges continue.

For a further outline, click on our recent blog on the law and penalties for animal cruelty in NSW.

Queensland Racing Crime Squad Called to Investigate Doping Scandal

On 22 September, the Queensland Racing Crime Squad was called to carry out investigations after alleged threats were made to dope the horse.

According to police, the “former racing participant” attempted to drug the horse in a shared stable of thoroughbred trainers at Innisfail, south of Cairns.

As a result of the accusations, authorities were forced to withdraw all six runners set to run the race and cancelled the race as a precaution.

Samples were then taken for testing to determine if any drugs had been administered, following which the man was arrested, charged and remanded in custody until appearing at the Innisfail Magistrates Court on 8 October.

Doping Incident a Compromise to the Integrity of the Racing Industry

Speaking of the indictment, Queensland Racing Integrity Commissioner Ross Barnett said this was the first time someone had been charged with threatening to narcotise a horse in Atherton.

“This is very much a concern to the commission, and any alleged wrong doing in the racing industry is investigated thoroughly,” Commissioner Barnett said.

“I am concerned as this relates to the integrity of the racing industry and the possible threat to the welfare of the animal involved.”

Australia’s History of Drug Use in Horse Racing

Australia has a long and dubious history of using performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing. In fact, in May this year, eight people connected to a now-defunct racing in Australia were found guilty of doping horses over seven years from 2010.

The reality is, just like humans, horses can be drugged to enhance or tarnish their performance. And with so much at stake, unsurprisingly it is not uncommon that trainers will do almost anything to secure their horse with an advantage. Oftentimes, this goes without considering the welfare of the horse.

Equine doping can occur through potions such as tranquilisers to calm highly strung horses. Others are designed to speed them up. While in the early 20th Century, thoroughbreds were being fuelled with strong concoctions such as caffeine and cocaine, recent times have also seen trainers experimenting with Viagra, energising opioids and drugs that dilate airways.

These days, racehorses are also commonly injected with EPO, formally known as Erythropoietin, which is a hormone produced by the kidney. EPO promotes the formation of red blood cells and is released into the blood in response to low blood oxygen levels. This blood-doping hormone saw an end to Lance Armstrong’s career.

Thoroughbred trainers have similarly been sanctioned for dosing horses with anabolic steroids. These are administered to make them stronger and faster over the long-term, not merely on a day when they are racing.

Against this backdrop, modern horse racing has evolved with the wider public’s demands for horse welfare and racing penalties have become an essential element in maintaining confidence and integrity in the industry. Hence, drug testing, surveillance and intelligence-gathering initiatives have assisted by attracting penalties to offenders and deterring cheats.

The Law on Drug Use in Horse Racing in Queensland

In Queensland, a person guilty of using or attempting to use a prohibited thing on (or interferes with) a licensed animal will face a penalty of up to $78,330 and/or a term of imprisonment of up to two years pursuant to section 218 of the Racing Integrity Act 2016 (Qld).

A ‘prohibited thing’ includes a drug, noxious or toxic thing that could be used to affect the behaviour, performance or physical condition of an animal or person.

This charge can be dismissed if any one of the following defences apply:

  • Duress or Necessity;
  • A veterinary surgeon used a prohibited thing (or interfered) with the licensed animal to treat a condition or injury it had or to do something else that accords with normal veterinary practice;
  • There was a reasonable excused to commit this offence.

The Rules and Penalties Around Horse Doping in NSW

In NSW, matters relating to the rules of horse racing are guided by the Thoroughbred Racing Act 1996. This Act makes provision for the establishment, management and functions of Racing New South Wales as the representative body to control thoroughbred horse racing in the State.

As outlined in the Rules of Racing of Racing NSW, any horse that has been brought to a racecourse that has a prohibited substance detected in any sample taken from it prior to or following its running in any race faces immediate disqualification from any race in which it started on that day. This is outlined in Rule 177 of the Australian Rule of Racing (‘AR’).

AR 177B also says that a licence suspension, disqualification and fine can also result if a person is in possession of a prohibited substance that could give rise to an offence under these rules if administered to a horse at any time.

In addition, any person who administers or attempts to administer (or causes to be administered) any prohibited substance to a horse being trained by a licensed trainer must be penalised.

Pursuant to AR 175, a licence suspension, disqualification and fine can result if:

  • A banned substance is found from a rider (or horse handler); or if the rider (or horse handler) refuses or fails to deliver a sample or hinders the collection of a sample;
  • Any person administers (or causes to administer) a prohibited substance to a horse for the purpose of affecting the horse’s performance in a race (or preventing its starting in a race);
  • Any person administers (or causes to administer) a prohibited substance to a horse which is detected in a sample taken from the horse before or after the running of a race.

The penalty imposed can be a fine of up to $100,000.

Representing yourself in a court environment is normally very daunting and stressful. For guidance on this, see our guide on how to represent yourself in court for criminal offences.

Have any questions arising from this blog? We are available 24/7 and appear in all courts.

Contact our experienced criminal lawyers in Sydney, Liverpool, Parramatta, Wollongong or Newcastle for a free first discussion.

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