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BHA defends decision to strip Keighley star of cross-country

Co-owner hits out after gelding loses festival prize following positive sample

Any Currency (right): will be back next year for Cheltenham
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The BHA yesterday defended its decision to strip Any Currency of his Cheltenham Festival win in the face of accusations of unfairness and incompetence by the horse’s co-owner Mark Boothright.

At a BHA hearing, the Martin Keighley-trained 13-year-old was disqualified from first place in this year's Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on the grounds of a positive post-race drugs test, handing the race to the Enda Bolger-trained Josies Orders.

Boothright, who heads the Cash Is King syndicate, labelled the BHA “a complete joke” after the disciplinary panel threw out his winner, but opted not to fine Keighley, after the positive test for the painkiller corticosteroid triamcinolone acetonide (TCA).

But the BHA argues there was a strict liability when it came to drugs in a horse’s system, which meant there was no choice but to disqualify Any Currency.

Keighley was yesterday “gutted” after losing his first Cheltenham Festival winner, but vowed to return next March with Any Currency and take victory in the race.

Any Currency was found to have traces of TCA and its hydroxylated metabolite in his sample after beating Josies Orders by a length under jockey Aidan Coleman. The B sample confirmed this, with the source thought to have been an injection the 13-year-old had into his hocks 41 days before the festival. The rules of racing state there is a minimum of a 14-day stand-down period between treatment and the horse running.

But Boothright hit out at the BHA over the decision not to mirror their leniency to Keighley by allowing his horse to keep the race. “It’s a complete and utter joke,” he said. “It’s Martin’s first Cheltenham Festival win and I think it’s disgraceful.

"The situation epitomises everything the BHA have been doing over the past two or three years. It’s a shambles and they haven’t got a clue. Martin's solicitor showed them a number of precedents that showed they had the discretion in this case, but the BHA have bottled it.”

Boothright, who formerly owned Creepy in partnership with BHA chairman Steve Harman, questioned his future involvement in racing following the disqualification.

“It’s left a completely sour taste in my mouth,” he said. “At the moment I don’t have any interest in new horses or getting further involved in racing. I can assure you this has completely discouraged everyone in the syndicate from doing more.

"I haven’t spoken to any owner who thinks this is an acceptable position and is in any way, shape or form fair because it isn’t fair.”

BHA media manager Robin Mounsey insisted the rules were clear. He said: "There is no discretion, the rule is one of strict liability and once a horse has tested positive the automatic consequence is that it is disqualified, irrespective of whether any penalty is imposed.

“The overarching policy behind medication control is based on the twin principles of fairness and welfare – fairness in ensuring there is a level playing field for all participants, and welfare in that our horses race free from the effect of any substances.”

He added: "Mr Keighley admitted the finding. TCA, which is an anti-inflammatory and kills pain, could be argued to have a performance-altering effect. With TCA present, there was not a level playing field for other participants in the race.

"We note the reasons to not impose any fine despite a breach of the rules, and the fact that they found that the presence of TCA in the horse after 41 days was ‘exceptional’."

Keighley said: "It’s gutting for everybody involved. For the owners, for Aidan and for everybody in the yard. I spoke to Mark and he’s very upset because we’ve done nothing wrong and we’ve lost a big festival race. It’s such a team effort and for the horse to have been second in the race and then finally do it was such a massive thing.

"It was clear for the BHA to see what we did and that it was all fine. That’s been proved in that they’ve not fined me. That’s great but we’ve still lost the prize-money and the race. It’s hard to take.”

Keighley added: "We’ve just been unlucky for the trace to remain as we were in the guidelines of the medication. We showed them all the medical books and when the physio saw him and when the vet saw him and everything was fine and recorded. We were allowed to use what he was treated with. But as it was positive they had to disqualify him.

“It’s a sad day as he deserved that win. It’s gutting from everybody as it’s hard to get these festival winners. But you’ve got to stay positive and have to move on now and win it again.”

As a result of the disqualification Bless The Wings has been promoted to second in the cross country chase and Quantitativeeasing third.

The victory for Josies Orders means that the festival's BetBright Cup between British and Irish-based trainers has now technically been won by Ireland 15-13.

At the moment I don?t have any interest in new horses or getting further involved in racing

Key data

Any Currency