Updated 12.40pm, adds EquestriMalta's reaction
A racehorse tested positive for cocaine and other drugs after it won a race last month.
Six-year-old mare Halina Jibay was found with cocaine in its body when it outperformed nine other horses on the Marsa racecourse on October 1, tests carried out in a French doping laboratory revealed.
In a decision issued by the Malta Racing Club this week, the mare’s owner was suspended from all races for two years and fined €350.
A doping test result issued by the Laboratoire des Courses Hippiques and seen by Times of Malta confirms a urine sample taken from the horse on the day of the race contained cocaine, stanozolol (a synthetic steroid), ketamine (a form of tranquilliser), and methamphetamine (a stimulating drug), among other similar substances.
At least two of the substances – including cocaine – constitute among the most serious rule breaks according to the Malta Racing Club’s regulations, and the rules state such cases must also be reported to the police since the possession of these substances is illegal.
The Malta Racing Club last night said the horse owner was given until today to contest the findings and present a counter-analysis.
Should the owner not contest the findings, then the case will be reported to the police.
Cocaine use in racehorses in Malta is uncommon though sources say around four other horses are known to have been found with illegal substances in the last eight years. Times of Malta is informed two other racehorses were found positive for morphine last year.
Cocaine works on horses similarly to the way it works in humans. It stimulates them and enhances their performance, and often numbs muscular pain and other body discomfort as well.
Cocaine use considered a serious rule breach
It is considered a serious rule breach and the two-year suspension handed in this case is “on the harsher side” when compared to the Malta Racing Club’s other punishments, sources said.
When a horse is found positive for an illicit substance, it is stripped of its victory and barred from taking part in any other races but it gets to keep the points it gained in that race.
The owner is also ordered to return any prize or cup, is banned from transferring the horse during the suspension period, and gets their membership from the club suspended.
Halina Jibay was suspended for a year and its owner was handed the lowest possible fine for the breach, the suspension letter says.
Born in France in 2017, Halina Jibay had taken part in 13 other races this year, winning two and placing second in another four.
Doping tests are usually carried out on the winning horses and on other horses through a random draw. The urine specimens are then immediately sent to a laboratory overseas for testing since Malta does not have a laboratory specialising in animal doping tests.
Sources told Times of Malta, however, that while some owners give cocaine to their racehorses intentionally, others are unaware they are doing it. They could acquire a medicine which they are told is effective to treat the horse, not knowing it contains the drug, they explained.
EquestriMalta – the regulatory authority on all equine sport – said it tried to limit abuses as much as possible. It increased the anti-doping tests and gave financial assistance to the Malta Racing Club to increase the frequency of the tests.
The tests are administered by an EquestriMalta official with the help of a veterinarian. Upon completion, they are sent to an independent laboratory in France recognised by the European Union of Trotting.
It said that upon receiving the result, the Malta Racing Club met with EquestriMalta and informed it of the disciplinary action that was to be taken. It asked the club to file a police report.
Questions were sent to the owner of the horse.
It is not uncommon for racehorses to test positive for cocaine and international rules impose strict punishments.
In many cases, the horses raise suspicion after winning a streak of races and begin to appear unbeatable.