Kieran Shoemark: failing a drugs test allowed me to tackle my addiction
Jockey Kieran Shoemark described being overwhelmed with relief after failing a drugs test at Kempton as the extent of his battle with addiction and details of his recovery were revealed in front of a BHA disciplinary panel on Thursday.
The Royal Ascot-winning rider, who admitted to taking cocaine three days before his three rides on November 14, has not ridden since November 24 and was officially suspended five days later. He must now wait until May 29 before he is able to re-apply for his licence.
Shoemark, 23, revealed he had been fighting a long battle with alcohol addiction, which was a trigger for his use of cocaine while recovering from a horror fall at Lingfield last June in which he broke six ribs and punctured a lung.
He said that in the immediate aftermath of providing a positive sample he felt like he had taken a "big breath of air" as for the first time he was able to face up to his addictive personality and begin his recovery.
Shoemark said: "Everyone knows my story. I’ve got nothing to hide. They’ve almost known a lot longer than I did myself, which is often the case when someone is suffering from addiction.
“My parents haven’t slept for the last two years and I wasn’t even going to stop for them. My addiction had such a tight grip on me.
“Everybody says I look completely different," added Shoemark, who has ridden over 150 winners in his short career and rode Atty Persse to success in the 2017 King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot.
He began riding out for Charlie Hills six weeks ago and said: "I just do what I need to do now and what my sober friends suggest. I’m in a much better place and life’s a lot easier.
"I still feel that sense of relief. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about what I used to do – and I need to. It reminds me of the terrible place I was in.
"The weight off my shoulders was massive and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead."
A urine sample taken from Shoemark in November showed a level of approximately 2,300 nanograms per millilitre of benzoylecgonine – the permitted level being 150ng/ml – a metabolite of cocaine and therefore a banned substance.
Shoemark admitted that the pressures of controlling his weight occasionally exacerbated his use of cocaine and called it a "Catch 22" as the substance simultaneously wrecked his life while suppressing his appetite and making it easier for him to wake up lighter on a Monday morning.
But now he is grateful for the chance to concentrate on his recovery away from racing, enabling him to focus on his treatment at the Steps Together rehabilitation centre in Mansfield, and on a healthier lifestyle.
“I’ve got six weeks left to really get into shape and am still working on a 12-step recovery programme which teaches you how to better deal with your problems," said Shoemark, who has been working to reach his riding weight.
"I’m relieved it’s all over as I’ve had to wait for this hearing and I’m looking forward to getting back to racing.
“I don’t know how I achieved what I did and got away with it for so long. It might seem like my success happened in a short space of time but the last couple of years were a drag for me. Having a clear head and a healthy lifestyle can only benefit my career.
Shoemark has taken steps to remove negative influences from his life, such as deleting contacts from his phone, and the jockey was quick to thank the PJA and those who have supported him in his recovery, including his former boss Roger Charlton.
“I’ve got a tighter friendship circle – I found out who they were when I was going through rehab and they’d contact me every night. I’ve burned a lot of bridges along the way but everyone has been very supportive, especially Mr Charlton.
“We’ve written to each other a few times and he’s been exceptional to me over the years. It doesn’t matter if I ride for him again. It would be great but it just gives me peace of mind to have him onside. He’s been fantastic and I appreciate everything he’s done.”
Professional Jockeys Association chief executive Paul Struthers phoned Shoemark on the evening of his positive sample and was full of praise for the young jockey.
“I’ve never met a jockey who has been so open and honest about what he’s been through,” said Struthers. “You often find in life people need to hit rock-bottom before they reach out for support.
"People don’t ask for help until they truly recognise they have an issue. That night at Kempton was Kieran’s low point and support structures were put in place.”
Get exclusive insight from the track and live tipping with Raceday Live - our up-to-the-minute service on racingpost.com and the Racing Post mobile app