Each year it is customary for Tattersalls and DBS to host industry liaison meetings, which offer a valuable opportunity for representative bodies to air any matters of concern raised by their members and debate new issues, rules and techniques. This year we will undoubtedly touch on the industry’s response to debate on the role of anabolic steroids in the racing and
breeding industry.

Currently the BHA will not allow the use of anabolic steroids in training, which the TBA fully supports. The TBA Board would welcome harmonisation of the rules regarding anabolic steroids, but realises that a total ban may present new problems, and these should be carefully considered with all relevant parties prior to any hasty rule changes. In fact, it will not just be racing and breeding in Britain that will face these new problems, it will need a European and worldwide focus to produce a workable outcome.

The Board welcomes harmonisation of the rules regarding anabolic steroids, but realises that a total ban may present new problems

Our veterinary advisers explained further in their information to the Board: “Anabolic steroids are chemical derivatives similar to the male hormone testosterone and have been used in animals and humans for many years. Their main therapeutic application is to rebuild tissues that are weakened by disease, injury or surgery. The primary effect on animals and particularly horses is to increase weight and muscle, in conjunction with feeding and exercise programmes, believed to be a result of increased appetite. Due to the similarities to testosterone there may be side effects including aggression.

“Anabolic steroids are detectable in horses for at least four weeks in blood and urine and sometimes longer, and in hair samples for up to two years, and currently can be obtained legally by veterinary surgeons in the UK for use in specific cases of horse debilitation and need. It is well known that the repeated or prolonged use of some anabolic steroids in susceptible juvenile horses can be damaging to their fertility. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the use of anabolic steroids in the thoroughbred breeding industry in Great Britain is at a very low level and current opinion suggests that its use in horses is less beneficial than previously thought. Recently the use of an intra-articular preparation that contains a small amount of an anabolic steroid has been used to medicate some horses’ joints as a way of reducing inflammation and a similar product has also been used in damaged flexor tendons. Recent publicity regarding the use of this preparation and intra-muscular anabolic steroids has reopened debate amongst racing authorities here and abroad.

“The TBA Veterinary Committee has pointed out that a similar extended ban in Great Britain would preclude the use of these drugs in any situation and would be difficult and expensive to monitor even though it may be desirable in principle. The testing of hair samples for anabolic steroids may result in unexpected results following historic use, producing difficulties perhaps with imported horses that have been reared in countries who do not insist on lifetime bans and that may change ownership, sometimes through sales rings.”
The TBA’s veterinary advisors also cautioned that a total ban may also preclude the beneficial use of steroids in ways that have yet to be discovered, or are currently being assessed. The international breeding community will have an opportunity to discuss this at the forthcoming International Thoroughbred Breeders’ Federation meeting.

Recent press comment that the international appetite for European-bred horses must not diminish the quality of our stock as British racing struggles to provide incentives to retain horses in training in this country is food for thought. The TBA’s Flat Committee recently agreed to approach the BHA to offer funding for a series of races at varying distances for fillies and mares, just short of Listed status. This is aimed at ensuring those with ability continue to race on in Britain rather than seeking black type overseas. This is just one of the positive activities the TBA plans to support from sales levy income in 2014.