If I were to adopt a cynical approach, I could say that in most cases when a short priced favourite is beaten, the only dope involved is the one sitting on the horse. However, that would be insulting, unfair and completely inaccurate. The truth is that horses are not machines and cannot be expected to run up to precisely the same level of form every time they race, if they did, punting would be ridiculously easy and all of the bookmakers would soon be bankrupt. Just like us humans, horses have good days, bad days and downright awful days. Sometimes though, they run so badly that there must be another explanation for it.
Which brings me to the point of this article - Horse Doping.
Broadly speaking , there are two types of drugs which can be administered to horses. One which makes them go faster, and one which makes them go slower. The drug that supposedly makes them go faster is Erythopietin, commonly known as EPO. You've no doubt heard of this one as it has cropped up in cycling, athletics and several other sports of late, but the thing is that horses produce EPO naturally so would not benefit from being given it. Despite this the authorities recently executed dawn raids on five trainers premises, most notably (and predictably) champion trainer Martin Pipe. Needless to say they found nothing at any of them.
Far more sinister is the drug which makes horses go slower. It must be said that the vast majority of racehorses in training are more than capable of running slowly and being beaten out of sight without the need for any chemical assistance. The drug that makes horses go slower is called acetylpromazine (ACP), but unlike the aforementioned EPO, several horses have tested positive for this one. The most recent one being the Philip Hobbs trained novice hurdler Ashgar. Having already won two similar races during the 2001/02 season, he was sent off the 5/6 favourite for a class E novices hurdle at Plumpton. Favourite backers soon knew their fate though as he received reminders early in the race, was never travelling and almost fell at the last hurdle, eventually finishing third of six. He was subsequently drug tested and the test came up positive for ACP. It was later revealed that there had been quite a bit of money for the second favourite, After the Blue (who ironically didn't win either), which suggested that Ashgar had been "nobbled" so that those in the know could clean out the bookies, knowing that the odds-on favourite couldn't possibly win.
The best known ACP case was also at Plumpton in March 1997. The 1/7 favourite for a three runner novices chase was the Josh Gifford trained Lively Knight. Just like Ashgar, he never travelled during the race and was eventually well beaten behind 9/1 chance Stormhill Pilgrim. Lively Knight subsequently tested positive for ACP, and his jockey Leighton Aspell was arrested during the now infamous "race fixing" trial. While Lively Knight had obviously been got at, to suggest that the jockey riding him was in any way involved was absolutely laughable. ACP is a fast acting tranquillizer normally used to calm down fractious animals - a sedative in other words - and to suggest that a jockey would ride a horse in a novices chase knowing that it had been sedated is ridiculous. Riding a healthy and alert horse at full speed towards a steeplechase fence takes a fair bit of courage, but to ride a horse that might not even be aware that the fence is there would be suicidal.
Several other jockeys were arrested during the trial but all were released without charge, including Jamie Osborne who pulled up a horse called Avanti Express, who was 5/4 favourite for a novices hurdle at Exeter during the same month as the Lively Knight race. Avanti Express also tested positive for ACP.
There are two common factors in all of the above examples, the first one being that they all occurred in races at minor tracks (no offence intended to any of the courses concerned, but we're hardly talking about Cheltenham here are we), and the second is that they were all low grade national hunt races.
The reason for the first factor is fairly obvious, minor meetings at the less glamorous tracks aren't seen by very many people and therefore don't attract much attention, as opposed to the big televised meetings which are seen by a large audience. The reason that they were all low grade national hunt races is probably because they are contested by such slow horses that nobody would notice if one of them was doped anyway.
Another factor which I haven't mentioned is that all of the aforementioned doped horses were subsequently disqualified. I find this a bit strange because to disqualify a horse suggests that he had an unfair advantage over the others, but in truth, the horses were at such a disadvantage that they probably wouldn't have won their races if they'd started the day before. Presumably the owner(s) also had to return whatever prize money they received for Ashgar coming third as well, which is adding insult to injury I'm sure you'll agree. What makes disqualification seems most pointless is that they're punishing the wrong people (the owners). The whole point of doping a horse is to engineer a betting coup on another runner in the race, and assuming this other runner obliges, then the bookies will have paid out the winnings to the dopers long before any drug test has even taken place, let alone come up positive. The words "stable", "door", "horse", and "bolted" spring to mind. Though what else would you expect from the boneheads at the Jockey Club.
Despite making light of the subject during this article, it should be stated that Ivor Donkey considers the act of horse doping to be totally despicable. It not only puts the horse concerned and his jockey in considerable danger, but also every other horse and jockey in the race. Also punters that backed the doped horse are being cheated, as are the bookies who have to pay out on the winner.
Having said that though, horse doping does have one good point. For incompetent tipsters like yours truly, it provides a ready made excuse for the lamentable performance of most (or arguably all) of my selections. All I've got to say is "It must have been nobbled".