TWO contracted racecourse workers have been suspended after an official investigation into the suspected doping of the Mick Easterby-trained Ladies First was launched by the sport’s authorities.
The filly failed a routine test after finishing eighth out of nine runners at Newcastle last month. She had been 6-4 favourite to repeat her high-profile success at York 12 days earlier, but was beaten by an inexplicable 22 lengths.
We’ve been told that she failed a test for a beta-blocker. At the time her performance had us all flummoxed. We couldn’t find anything wrong with her - it had us all stumped.David Easterby
It subsequently emerged Ladies First, the winner of two out of 10 career starts, tested positive for a beta-blocker which slows down the heart rate.
Neither Arena Racing Company, which manages Newcastle, nor the British Horseracing Authority would confirm the role that the contracted staff in question were paid to undertake on September 21.
They also declined to comment when asked if the police had been asked to investigate – or whether raceday protocols would be tightened.
Reports of the one mile race on the Tapeta all-weather surface say the four-year-old Ladies First, owned by Reg Bond, tracked the leaders and was under pressure with three furlongs to go.
Apprentice jockey Scott McCullagh was questioned by raceday stewards – such interviews take place routinely when any horse shows unexpected improvement or under-performs.
The BHA report noted at the time: “Following the race, Scott McCullagh reported that Ladies First, placed eighth, was never travelling and hung right. The filly was routine tested.”
Last night a spokesman for racing’s regulator said: “The BHA does not comment on investigations or speculation surrounding possible investigations.
“Should anyone have any concern or information regarding any integrity matters in British racing, we would ask them to contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call our anonymous ‘Racestraight’ reporting line on 0800 085 2580.”
An Arena spokesman added: “I’m afraid that we cannot comment, other than that we are fully co-operating with the BHA team.”
The BHA inquiry will be examining CCTV footage of the stabling area at Newcastle – one of the innovations introduced by racecourses in recent years to protect the integrity of sport.
Easterby, and staff from his Sheriff Hutton stables, were questioned when BHA investigators turned up at the Ryedale yard.
The 83-year-old trainer is one of the sport’s great characters and saddled Mrs McCardy to win the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1977. Easterby’s Mr Snugfit was runner-up in the 1985 Grand National and the trainer has been at this month’s bloodstock sales buying new horses.
“I’ve been told two people have been suspended from Newcastle but I don’t know any more than that,” the trainer’s son and assistant David told the Racing Post. “Anyone who works in racing has the welfare of the animals at heart and that’s a priority, so I’m certainly not thinking that any of our staff would be considering doing anything like that.
“You spend all day working with racehorses, be it feeding, mucking them out, grooming them and making sure everything is perfect for them, so you can’t see anyone doing anything detrimental to a horse. It just doesn’t add up.”
Easterby also confirmed that both he – and his father – had included Ladies First in various bets.
“She’d run well on the all-weather before, and on the handicap she was a racing certainty,” he added.