THE SPECTRE of steroids on the British Turf, barely perceived before the disgrace of Mahmood Al Zarooni last week, grows ever more tangible.
The British Horseracing Authority, always reluctant to comment on ongoing investigations, issued a statement that Gerard Butler faces a ban for injecting steroids.
The Newmarket trainer believes that over 100 horses in the town have been treated with the same medication – recommended and administered, in good faith, by his vets – that triggered positive results in samples taken at his yard in February.
Now the BHA has confirmed that it is exploring how many other trainers may have shared similar misapprehensions about targeted injections for joint injuries. Butler stresses that he has been candid throughout with the BHA, and that he continues to co-operate with its inquiries.
While itself anxious not to prejudice the outcome, the BHA said that the source of the positive samples had been established as a "product licensed in the EU and legally imported for use by a veterinary practice, the initial administration of which was recommended by a vet."
Representatives of that practice were among those who had been and would be interviewed, and one of the objectives "was to clarify the extent to which this product has been distributed and administered to horses in training."
Butler accepts this to be a strict liability offence, and also that he is palpably at fault in certain aspects of the case.
But he also believed the treatment to be so widely prescribed that he unhesitatingly entered it in his official medical records last summer. Moreover these had been returned without comment after inspection last summer by the BHA. Immediately after receiving the positive results – and, presumably, Butler's initial testimony – the BHA and National Trainers' Federation published a notice that the medication in question contained an anabolic steroid and should therefore not be given to any horse in training. This was redistributed by the NTF.
Butler's disclosures had meanwhile been received in Newmarket as the unexpected aftershock to an earthquake. It was only eight days ago that the BHA stunned the sport by announcing that 11 horses in the care of Mahmood Al Zarooni, the principal trainer for Godolphin, had produced traces of anabolic steroids in random samples taken at his stable.
Within 72 hours, Al Zarooni had been banned for eight years and Sheikh Mohammed had closed the stable pending voluntary testing on every horse.
Trainer John Berry suggested that "all he is guilty of is taking bad advice" and praised his candour.
"Gerard has been given a drug by a vet, and told it's a legal drug," he said. "It has been injected into a joint, which shows it was not being used as an anabolic steroid as that is not how they work. It would be very, very sad if he were to lose his licence over this."