Zimbabwe: Stidolph Rides Into a Storm... Leading Trainer Fined R100k Over Banned Substance

Senior Sports Editor

LEADING local trainer, Bridget Stidolph, has been fined R100 000 after pleading guilty to a charge of violating rules prohibiting the use of forbidden substances.

The case has shaken the domestic horseracing industry.

Stidolph, one of the best trainers in the country, also had her trainer's licence cancelled.

However, this sanction has been suspended, for five years, provided she doesn't violate rules, prohibiting the use of forbidden substances.

She was found guilty of violating the National Horseracing Authority rules, in particular, the charge relating to contravening Rule 10.5.16.5.

It prohibits the use of a forbidden substance, Depo-Testosterone.

"The National Horseracing Authority confirms that at an Inquiry held in Harare, Zimbabwe on Monday, 7 June 2021, trainer Ms Bridget Stidolph was charged with a contravention of Rule 10.5.16.5," the NHRA said in a statement.

"The particulars of the charge being that a forbidden substance, namely, Depo-Testosterone, was found on the premises of her racing stables at Borrowdale Park Race Course on Sunday, 21 March 2021.

"Ms Stidolph pleaded guilty to the charge and was found guilty as charged.

"In determining a suitable penalty, the Inquiry Board considered all mitigating and aggravating factors, as well as the unique set of circumstances surrounding the horseracing industry and those that ply their trade in this industry in Zimbabwe.

"The inquiry board ruled that Ms Stidolph's trainer's licence be cancelled, but that this sanction be suspended for a period of five years, on condition that she is not found guilty of a contravention of Rule 10.5.16.5 or any other rule relating to forbidden substances during this period.

"In addition, Ms Stidolph was fined the sum of R100 000.

"Ms Stidolph has the right of appeal against the severity of the penalty imposed."

Stidolph, and the stable which carries her name, Stidolph Yard, are both household names in horseracing in this country.

Only last Saturday, Peggson, the horse she trains, charmed many in the OK Grand Challenge, to finish second behind winner, Fichatton. Despite losing about three lengths, at the start, Peggson powered to a strong finish, to come within half-a-length, of the winner, in the prestigious 1 800m race.

Wantage and Only Him were also from the same yard.

The drama at Borrowdale Park is the latest controversy to hit horseracing, in what has been a trying period, for the sport, around the world, in recent months.

Last week, Churchill Downs, the home of the prestigious Kentucky Derby, suspended prominent trainer, Bob Baffert, who has been in the eye of a storm. The two-year suspension follows a second failed test, for banned substances, by Medina Spirit, the colt which won this year's running of the Derby. The sanctions prohibits any trainer, affiliated with his stables, from entering horses in races, operated by Churchill Downs.

Medina Spirit first failed a post-race drug test last month just after its sensational Derby victory. The second test showed the presence of a steroid, known as betamethasone, according to a statement given by W. Craig Robertson III, the lawyer representing the horse's owner.

The lawyer said additional testing was being conducted, including DNA testing, which will provide an explanation whether the traces were from the Otomax ointment or an injection.

It was the same drug found in Medina Spirit's first test. Medina Spirit powered to an upset victory, by a head, over runner-up Mandaloun.

This was Baffert's seventh victory in the Derby, which is the premier thoroughbred race, in the United States.

Baffert argued this was due to a topical ointment, called Otomax, which had been used in the treatment of a skin rash.

The trainer claimed he was not aware, when he applied the ointment, that it contained traces of betamethasone and might violate the regulations. Last week, The Economist published an article under the headline, "Horseracing, the sport of kings, needs more punters and fewer drugs." Timothy L. O'Brien, a senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, also ran a piece on the controversy.

"It's difficult, almost impossible, to predict the outcome of the Kentucky Derby, the jewel in thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown," he wrote.

There are many variables -- jockeys and their horses are under pressure to perform, in a marquee race, the field of runners is the largest they will ever see, track conditions vary and are uncertain until race day.

"And, it's the first time any of the 3-year-old horses have run in a mile-and-a-quarter competition.

"But, Bob Baffert, one of the sport's most prominent trainers, has been a consistent Derby winner for decades.

"Elite Hall of Fame trainers such as Baffert monitor their horses closely.

"It boggles the imagination that anything gets into a thoroughbred's bloodstream without its trainer knowing -- particularly before a main event like the Derby.

"Baffert, who wields a mane of silver hair, sunglasses and backslapping affability to great effect, is immensely likeable.

"He makes himself accessible to the media and has won the support of wealthy horse owners, corporate sponsors and a sport that has long been past its prime." But, as O'Brien argues, suspicion is never far away.

"His horses have won more than 3 000 races and hauled in purses worth more than $320 million," he wrote.

"He also has had doping allegations and a suspension levelled at him before and, as The New York Times has noted, his rivals in the racing business think he's a cheater.

"But, Baffert keeps galloping forward.

"Horse racing is a cosy business. Although its profitability and prestige have waned steadily over the years, and off-track betting and online gambling, haven't revived its fortunes as much as its supporters have hoped, horse flesh trades well.

"In addition to bragging rights and the joy they take in raising a world-class thoroughbred, owners can hit the jackpot when a championship horse is sold for stud.

"That makes winning trainers valuable.

"Baffert's horse Justify failed a drug test before winning the 2018 Triple Crown, but Derby officials didn't bar the horse from running.

"Justify's breeding rights were later sold for $60 million.

"Jockeys and gamblers may come and go, horses may falter or come up lame on the track, but owners and trainers can still make out nicely, year after year.

"Until they fully reckon with how the industry conspires to keep it that way, people are going to suspect that the fix is in."

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