Concerns are growing about the intended purpose—and who was going to administer them—of illegally imported equine drugs seized from Sheikh Mohammed’s Dubai government airplane at Stansted airport in the United Kingdom on May 3.
The haul, allegedly worth thousands of dollars, included medicines with uses in the type of athletic and orthopaedic management issues frequently associated with endurance horses, substances banned from any kind of equine use in the United Kingdom, and others that a leading veterinarian had not even heard of, as well as substances under prohibited Federation Equéstré Internationale anti-doping rules.
There is particular concern about Tildren (tildronic acid) which has legitimate use in promoting healthy bone but was discovered in large quantities—100 doses—on the plane.
“A diagnosed case would probably receive just one or two doses a year,” said Keith Chandler, council member and former president of the British Equine Veterinary Association. “Tildren would have a shelf life of 18 months, so I don’t understand why any barn of 70 or even 140 sport horses would require to hold so much.”
The Stansted haul, which Sheikh Mohammed only learned about from recent media reports, also included Pentosan Gold, a potent anti-inflammatory and cartilage stimulant used in joint treatment and not detectable in dope tests, Naquapaste, an orally administered corticosteroid, Sarapin, an pitcher plant extract, also undetectable, which relieves nerve pain, and Dexaphenylarthrite solution, an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid. These are all banned under any name in the U.K.
There were also 20 doses of Carbocaine, a local anaesthetic associated with nerve-blocking, and three other products used in injections into joints as well as a range of anti-inflammatories including phenylbutazone, flunixin meglumine and dexamethasone.
Middle Eastern owners have come under scrutiny after a flat-racing drugging scandal this spring at the Moulton Paddocks facility of Sheikh Mohammed, the world’s leading racehorse owner, in Newmarket. Then in August, officials from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate in England seized a large quantity of drugs from Moorley Farm East, a Newmarket farm used as the European base for the Maktoum family’s endurance horses.
This spring it emerged that the FEI was being lobbied by the Swiss and other European equestrian federations to clean up doping in Middle Eastern endurance.
The Dubai endurance stables of Sheikh Mohammed and other members of the Maktoum family have been implicated in 24 FEI Tribunal cases since 2005. Sheikh Mohammed’s junior wife is current FEI President Princess Haya of Jordan and her clean sport campaign has been undermined by this alleged “conflict of interest.” It was recently cited by opponents to the plan of FEI regional chairs for her to stand for a third term as president of the FEI, which Princess Haya has now declined.
The Stansted haul was first reported by Horse & Hound on Sept. 5, but not picked up by specialist racing media for nearly a week.
A spokesman for Princess Haya, said Sheikh Mohammed was unaware of the Stansted seizure until he saw media reports. “He was deeply troubled by this development and immediately asked Princess Haya to take action to ensure that these kinds of management failures never happen again,” he said.
The trainer at Moorley is Spanish rider Jaume Punti Dachs, who won the European title at Most in the Czech Republic in September. In a press statement, Punti Dachs initially dismissed the Moorley haul as consisting of medicines similar to those legitimately available in the U.K.
However, both Keith Chandler and Swiss equestrian federation president Charles Trolliet, also a vet, have seen list of medicines taken in both hauls and said the contents and quantity were not representative of a medicine cabinet you would expect in a professional stable. Trolliet described the anti-inflammatory and analgesic products as the “classic endurance cocktail, not an emergency kit while waiting for the vet.”
Chandler added: “Unlicensed drugs have not passed the U.K.’s stringent safety and efficacy tests and therefore there is a risk that they could cause serious harm to horses.
“This sort of illegal importation puts at risk our whole system of medicines control and has potentially damaging knock-on effects for the availability of licensed medicines,” Chandler continued.
It is also illegal for any non-members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to practice in the U.K. or to administer injectables, even if they are well qualified as vets in other countries. (Special waivers were made for vets accompanying team horses to London last year for the Olympic Games).
Last week the RCVS checked a list of foreign vets previously understood to have worked at Sheikh Mohammed's British stables for short periods. None of them were recognized as being members of the MRCVS, though a spokesman said this could result from names being misspelled.
Princess Haya is due to meet the former London Metropolitan police commissioner Lord Stevens, who helped set up the FEI's clean sport integrity unit, on Oct. 1.
Princess Haya issued directives on Sept. 12 to all of Sheikh Mohammed’s stable managers and trainers, plus his transport company Janah Management, setting out a new process for procurement and auditing of veterinary medicines and enforcing the employment of personnel properly licensed by the appropriate jurisdiction.
She concluded: "All managers are required to sign a declaration that they are fully satisfied that all reasonable efforts are being made to ensure the safety of the horses.
"I wish for all managers to accept the responsibilities that their position bestows on them and to ensure all efforts are made to protect the good name of the Maktoum family at all times.”