Willie Carson calls for stronger drug deterrents after grandson's cocaine ban
Legendary jockey Willie Carson has called for greater deterrents to stop jockeys turning to cocaine after his grandson William Carson was suspended for six months on Thursday for failing a drug test.
Carson, 29, who tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine after providing a sample at Lingfield on March 27, revealed at a disciplinary panel hearing on Thursday that he had taken "eight or nine lines" of cocaine at a pub two nights before the test.
The jockey is the latest to be banned for taking cocaine with Kieran Shoemark, Callum Rodriguez and Kevin Lundie all returning in the last 12 months from similar suspensions. Amateur rider Peter Bryan is serving a six-month sentence for a positive test this year.
“My feeling is there’s a hell of a lot more involved in drugs and drink," said Willie Carson, "and that’s in the whole of society not just jockeys. I would suggest to up the dope tests to once a week for everybody, or something like that.
“It would deter any young, aspiring jockeys who could go on to be very successful. That’s what you need to stop this: a deterrent. They’re taking it because they think they can get away with it.”
Carson, who won the Derby four times on Troy (1979), Henbit (1980), Nashwan (1989) and Erhaab (1994), revealed his grandson had been struggling with mental illness which had led to alcohol and drug abuse.
However, he added that William, whose ban ends on October 4, had reacted with relief once caught and that it had allowed him to turn his life around in a positive way.
“He’s happier now than he’s been for many a year,” Carson said. “He’s had depression and has got into the drink and cocaine after that. The best thing that happened to him was that he got caught.
“He’s been on a self-imposed ban from riding and he’s now three times a week attending AA, and I believe he’s even started going to church. We’re told with his addictions that he’s on the road to recovery, but with addiction you never know. He has said to me that it’s a pleasure to be alive nowadays.”
Having been champion jockey five times and ridden more than 3,800 winners, Willie Carson, 76, has experienced many of the challenges riders face in their careers.
Although he admits substance abuse is not a new thing, he believes there are added external pressures on modern riders that he and his contemporaries never had.
He said: “I saw some of my friends go into the drink – there wasn’t so much drugs as they weren’t so easy to get and I never saw them. I did see the drink get people and they were using it to relax and settle down or whatever.
“I think mobile phones have made it so much harder for them – it’s driving the youth of today crazy. You’re constantly switched on and you’re constantly finding bad things about you that people have said. If you’re not strong in the head, then it soon turns you.”
Although Carson has just a week left to serve of his ban, his grandfather added: "I don’t think he should rush back. I shall be telling him to take his time before he starts riding again."
Solicitor Rory Mac Neice represented Carson at Thursday's hearing at the BHA, which ended with former trainer Jenny Pitman, who was sitting on the panel, offering the rider advice for his future.
Mac Neice said: "Jenny Pitman's comments at the end of the hearing were informed and supportive, and that's how they were received. Mrs Pitman had clearly considered what she said before she said it and they were received in the manner in which they were meant.
"William completely accepted his suspension, which is to his credit. He has been suffering with depression for a number of years and there was an acceptance from the panel that it is an illness, because that's what it is. In that respect, society has come a long way."
BHA figures show drug tests have increased from 350 in 2006 to 520 last year. The number of breath tests for alcohol has risen to 1,894 last year from 309 in 2006.
Alongside more testing, the sport’s governing body is seeking better education for riders in an attempt to turn them away from illegal substances.
A BHA spokesman said: “Racing has very clear rules on the use of drugs and alcohol. The safety, health and welfare of all our jockeys is paramount and so we take a strict approach to substances that may impair judgement when riding in races or in training.
“We also have strict rules regarding performance-enhancing drugs. All jockeys are reminded of these rules when their licences are renewed each year and through regular educational sessions with our medical team.
"Nevertheless, we’re aware that a range of sports, including ourselves, are seeing an increase in positives for cocaine, as is wider society.
“We are working in collaboration with riders, through the Professional Jockeys Association, to understand why this may be happening and how it may relate to the use of prohibited drugs outside of racing. We’re looking at how we might support jockeys with better education and information.”
William Carson could not be contacted for comment.
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