Talking Horses: BHA investigates Ladies First's failed test for beta blocker

POSTED ON  |  25-10-2018

Ladies First
The British Horseracing Authority is investigating claims that Ladies First, the beaten favourite for a race at Newcastle on 21 September, returned a positive test for a beta blocker, which is potentially a “stopping” drug. Ladies First, a four-year-old filly from the Mick Easterby stable, lined up for a one-mile handicap at the all-weather track just 12 days after posting a career-best winning performance in a seven-furlong handicap at York. She was strong in the betting both at the track and on the Betfair betting exchange, being returned at an official SP of 6-4 at the course and an almost identical 2.53 on the exchange.

Having raced prominently, however, Ladies First faded rapidly from three furlongs out and then “stopped quickly” according to Timeform’s view on the race. As would be expected, the stewards asked for a report on her run from Scott McCullagh, her jockey, who told the officials that she was “never travelling and hung right”, and, again as per routine, the stewards ordered that Ladies First should be dope-tested.

A report in Wednesday morning’s Daily Telegraph suggested the test was positive for a beta blocker and assistant trainer David Easterby confirmed the positive test to Racing UK. “At the time her performance had us all flummoxed,” he said. “We couldn’t find anything wrong with her – it had us all stumped. We trust our staff implicitly – you’d also like to think that nobody who works with horses on a daily basis would be involved, because they would know the risks of doing something like this.”

Beta blockers are commonly prescribed by doctors to patients with heart conditions such as angina. The drugs work by blocking the action of adrenaline and thus slowing down and stabilising a raised heart rate. Their effect in horses is less well understood, in particular at very low concentrations, and the most recent example of a positive for a beta blocker was returned by David Brown’s Sky Gypsy in August 2016 after she had won a race at Pontefract.

The level of the banned drug in Ladies First’s sample is likely to prove crucial in determining whether the latest positive is a result of cross-contamination – via feed being handled shortly after a member of staff has also handled the drug, for instance – or a deliberate attempt to stop a favourite. All possibilities are currently under investigation by the BHA, who are not commenting on the investigation, and the CCTV footage from Newcastle on the evening in question will be closely examined to determine whether anyone managed to evade the security around the stables block. Investigators will also visit Easterby’s yard in north Yorkshire hoping to establish the source of the contamination.

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