Jo Foster: Over the stable door

I RECENTLY had my yard inspection by the British Horseracing Authority. As licensed racehorse trainers we have stringent regulations we must adhere to, with inspections every couple of years to ensure we do not waver.

These cover everything from health and safety, risk assessments, the medical records of every horse, accident books, insurance, owner’s contracts and wages records before they even get to inspecting stables, gallops, jumps. Everything must be up to date and most importantly, safe.

Even the feed we use is checked; it must be from a licensed company and covered for use under racing regulations. Most race horse feeds will have the recognised guarantee against naturally occurring prohibited substances (NOPS) but many basic horse and pony nuts or compounds, which are fed when horses are in lighter work, have no such guarantee.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Feed companies must be extremely careful with their milling process due to contamination from NOPS. One which has caused particular problems in the past is poppy seeds, seen growing in most fields of cereals all over the country.

They are opiates which contain morphine.

In 2002 a horse called Be My Royal, trained by Willie Mullins, won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. It was a major result for one of the biggest yards in Ireland and resulted in widespread publicity. The winner was routinely dope tested, resulting in a positive test for morphine, which came as a huge shock to the yard. After a detailed examination of the trainer’s records the source was finally located.

The feed given to Be My Royal, made by Red Mills, a reputable feed company supplying many trainers throughout Europe, was found to contain a minimal amount of poppy seed. In total 30 batches were affected spread throughout Ireland and the UK resulting in further positive dope tests on horses, including some trained by Donald McCain.

The BHA stewards held a lengthy and expensive enquiry regarding Be My Royal which resulted in his disqualification from the £60,000 race. It was a costly price for a genuine mistake. Red Mills had to compensate all those affected.

As trainers we have to be ultra-careful. Even supplements or tip bites contain hidden contaminates which would fail a drug test, chocolate contains caffeine (a section of Mars Bar fed to a racehorse by accident caused it to fail a dope test a few years ago) even commonly used supplements such as devil’s claw, with its natural anti- inflammatory properties, are now on the banned list.

The week running up to my inspection was hectic to put it mildly. There were signs to replace, fields to tidy, fences to fix, fire extinguishers to be checked... the list seemed endless. Fortunately our hard work paid off and we were given the all-clear from Yvonne, the northern inspector, who is helpful and realistic. She knows every trainer well and keeps us all up to date.

She certainly has her work cut out. As a breed, trainers are on a par with farmers, the thought of technology sends a shiver down most of their spines, many still have no website and, as entries and registrations are now down over the internet it has dragged many of us, begrudgingly, in to the 21st century.

Whether we like it or not, without the internet our business would soon be left out in the cold and at a time when attracting owners is a competitive market, none of us can afford to rest on our laurels.