Camilla Swift Camilla Swift

Don’t jump to conclusions over the positive drugs test on the Queen’s filly ‘Estimate’

The news that one of the Queen’s horses, Estimate, tested positive for morphine, a banned substance, hit the headlines yesterday evening and unsurprisingly caused a bit of a stir. If the drugs test is confirmed by the British Horseracing Authority then the five year old filly would be disqualified from the 2014 Gold Cup at Ascot in which she came second (and which she won in 2013). She was last night still expected to be racing at Glorious Goodwood on 31st July.

Morphine is a painkiller (or a sedative), rather than a performance-enhancing drug, and one that is permitted for use in training, but not in competition. The thing is, morphine is highly unlikely to have affected the performance of the horse at all. It is most likely that the official line coming from John Warren, the Queen’s racing advisor, is correct: her feed was accidentally contaminated – most probably with poppy seeds. As the vet and racehorse trainer Jim Boyle said on Radio 5 Live: ‘a positive result is 99.99% of the time due to a feed contamination’. The feed company Dodson & Horrell currently seems to be most likely source of the problem, and according to a statement from them, ‘the investigation is currently centring on Dodson & Horrell’s supplier’.

But the fact that a royal horse tested positive to a banned drug has created ripples, simply because the Queen is one of the world’s most high-profile racehorse owners. Any headline linking racing and drugs (or indeed any sport and drugs) immediately encourages people to jump to conclusions that are often wrong (especially when the BBC news ticker says that it’s the Queen who has tested positive morphine!).

An unfortunate news ticker from the BBC

An unfortunate news ticker from the BBC

The problem is that racing – and indeed a number of other equine sports – has had issues with banned substances in the past, so any potential breaches are treated very seriously.

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