Racing New South Wales boss Peter V'Landys has never been afraid to court criticism – as this week's row over The Everest barrier draw has shown.
But as the Melbourne spring carnival heats up, many in Victoria are asking whether Racing NSW has sparked an unnecessary controversy with the go-it-alone decision to approve the use of a therapeutic drug in which the base compound is Altrenogest.
Victoria, and the rest of Australia, has banned it because recent batches have contained trace elements of the steroids Trenbolone and Trendione.
Some are querying whether the decision has opened the door to unscrupulous operators to potentially use Altrenogest as a masking agent for steroid use?
Peter V’landys says NSW is taking a common-sense approach.Credit:Wolter Peeters
The use of the compound – used to treat fillies and mares when they come into season and regulate their behaviour to ensure they race consistently – has been outlawed in all other states of Australia as well as in Ireland, France and the UK.
But NSW opted to give it the go ahead by creating a local rule permitting its use.
NSW officials argue that for horse welfare, the safety of stable staff (who, they say, could be endangered by aggressive in-season fillies and mares if they were taken off the treatment) and to protect punters who would want fillies and mares to run to their form levels as closely as possible, the product containing Altrenogest should be allowed because the amount of steroids in it was ''inconsequential''.
Those against the NSW action have suggested that it would be possible – albeit difficult and requiring high levels of veterinary skill – to treat a female horse with a steroid, use Altrenogest at a later stage and then cite the use of that product as the reason for a positive steroid test.
''It could be done in theory, although it would be hard. A wider issue is the lack of uniformity in this country and the fact that one state has taken a different position to every other,'' said one Victorian racing insider.
V'Landys insists that the NSW action is based on common sense rather than a rogue desire to do things without regard for the rest of the country.
''I think those sort of rumours (using Altrenogest as a masking agent) border on the ridiculous and are wild imagination. First off, it's got to be made clear that all we have done is issued a common-sense threshold,'' he said.
''Every drug, therapeutic or even narcotic, has a threshold because sometimes you can contaminate things accidentally. With the steroid situation we have a threshold of one ( 0.1 microgram per litre).
''What they (the scientists) tell us, by having it as one, any amount that is under one is totally inconsequential, it doesn't have any effect on the horse.
''Our veterinarians tell us that we would be doing a disservice if we didn't take a common-sense approach because mares require this to keep them from going into season. Not only is it a risk to the staff if it is not taken, it's also a risk to the punters who are unaware that that horse may be in season and may not perform to the best of their ability.
''So, if it has no effect on the horse's performance, why would we take the risk of strappers and trainers getting injured.''
He scoffed at suggestions it could provide an opportunity for cheats.
''It's immaterial, because it's such a small portion. If you touch a door handle in a nightclub and your skin gets cocaine on it, it's going to have no effect on you but it's going to be traced. ''
So why, if it's an issue of health and safety and punter protection, have other jurisdictions banned it?
''We have our view, if others have different views we are not going to force our views down their throats. That is for other jurisdictions to make up their mind on,'' V'Landys said.
However, Racing NSW does not mandate that the treatment be given to all fillies and mares.
''It's not allowed to be given on race day and it can only be given orally, it can't be injected. We do have a lot of requirements (around its use),'' V'Landys says.
Andrew Nicholl, head of the Australian Trainers Association, says the key issue is one of uniformity.
A debate needs to be had over the application of the drug, but more important, he says, is that all jurisdictions are playing under the same rules.
''The solution is not a locally applied rule that serves only one jurisdiction,'' he says.
''There needs to be a discussion with the vets but we are part of the global racing industry and have to be aware of their rules and how we should conform with those major jurisdictions if we want to be part of the wider industry.''
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