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The word “prohibited” has strong connotations and only has one meaning under the IFHA’s definition, but under the NHA’s definition it covers quite a wide range of medication breaches (Picture:

“Positives” are the most misunderstood entity in horseracing as the majority believe it to be doping.

However, some confusion is added by the NHA’s definition of  “prohibited substances”, which differs markedly from the International Federation Of Horseracing Authorities’ (IFHA) definition. (the NHA is a full member of the IFHA).

Read to the end of this article to see the potential for confusion this could create.

Most “positives:, which the public believe to be “doping”, are simply therapeutic medications which are subject to a withdrawal time and are not allowed to be above the HSL (Harmonised Screening Limit) on race day.

Whenever a therapeutic medication is administered a recording is made in a simple record book and this book also protects (or implicates) both the trainer and the veterinarian in cases where a horse is found to be “positive.” 
The book, which is numbered sequentially, simply provides a master copy of the medicine dosage and the veterinarian’s advised withdrawal time and a tear off duplicate copy is left with the trainer.  

If the level of the medication is shown to be above the HSL when tested on race day, a “positive” is recorded and the trainer is punished by a fine.

Any medication administered must also be recorded in the “veterinary treatment register”. (VTR)

The IFHA lists drugs that are not allowed at any time and in any amount under “PROHIBITED substances”.

The IFHA’s Article 6A deals with “prohibited substances” and states:

The following are prohibited substances:
• Substances capable at any time of causing an action or effect, or both an action and effect, within one
or more of the following mammalian body systems:
the nervous system
the cardiovascular system
the respiratory system
the digestive system
the urinary system
the reproductive system
the musculoskeletal system
the blood system
the immune system except for licensed vaccines against infectious agents
the endocrine system.
• Endocrine secretions and their synthetic counterparts
• Masking agents
• Oxygen carriers
• Agents that directly or indirectly affect or manipulate gene expression

PROHIBITED SUBSTANCES, the classification of prohibited substances is shown below (all “classes” below fall under a banner of “prohibited substances”):

Class 1: Substances which have no place in horseracing, including illegal or Forbidden Substances.
Class 2: Substances which have an obvious effect on the performance of the horse.
Class 3: Substances which have the potential to affect the performance of the horse with the potential to be abused. Drugs that may or may not have a generally accepted medical use in the racehorse, but pharmacologically have less potential to affect performance than drugs in Class 2.
Class 4: Substances which have a generally accepted veterinary (therapeutic) use in the racehorse but which have the potential to affect performance.
Class 5: Substances which have an accepted veterinary use in horses but which may have performance modifying ability.

Class 4 above shows that certain therapeutic medicines fall under “prohibited substances” in the NHA definition.

A recent press release by the NHA regarding Axel Collins and You’re My Sunshine stated:

The National Horseracing Authority confirms that, following Out of Competition Specimen Collection performed by its Officials at Randjesfontein Training Centre and Turffontein Racecourse on Monday, 24 July 2023, an investigation was conducted into the veterinary treatments of horses declared as upcoming runners. 

Pending the results of the NHA Laboratory analysis, on-site observatory evidence along with evidence provided by the Officials and after careful consideration of the contents of the Veterinary Treatment Register (VTR), AXEL COLLINS, NAPOLEAN and YOURE MY SUNSHINE were withdrawn from race meeting on 27 July 2023 at 09h25, in terms of Rule 4.2.18. 

The NHA Laboratory, having conducted the requisite screening, has confirmed that specimens collected from AXEL COLLINS and YOURE MY SUNSHINE, revealed upon analysis the presence of four (4) prohibited substances, of which one (1) substance was not recorded in the Trainer’s VTR.  An Inquiry will be opened into the one (1) substance that was NOT recorded for each of the respective two horses. 

The investigation thus far has raised a host of serious concerns in relation to horse welfare, including the liberal and regimented use of medications and/or treatments administered to horses during the days preceding racing and the accuracy of the recordal of such treatment in the relevant VTR. It appears that this practice has become widespread and therefore not limited to an individual Veterinarian or Trainer. 

The NHA advocates a fair and level playing field for all horses and, most importantly, for only fit and healthy horses to participate in races. The initial findings of this investigation have raised a myriad of alarming concerns and the NHA is in the process of conducting further investigations into practices, methodologies, mitigatory procedures, as well as considering possible amendments to the Rules, in order to eliminate such practices that some stakeholders wrongly believe to be acceptable and humane! 

Under the IFHA definition the two horses look to have been administered a cocktail of completely banned substances.

However, the fact that the inquiry will only be about the substance not being recorded in the VTR would seem to indicate that the “prohibited substances” in this case fall under class 4 prohibited substances i.e. they are therapeutic substances that are not allowed to be above a certain level on race day.

NHA’s Rule 73.2 states: The TRAINER and/or OWNER of a HORSE shall be guilty of an offence if a SPECIMEN taken from that HORSE: 73.2.1 at any time within a period of 48 hours preceding the day of a RACE in which it is or was due to run contains a PROHIBITED SUBSTANCE unless the drug, which caused the finding of a PROHIBITED SUBSTANCE, was administered by a registered veterinary surgeon and the administration has been entered in the veterinary treatment register; 

In the aforementioned press release The NHA do go on to display alarm about the liberal use of medications, the accuracy of the recordal of it, and they also point out that this practise is widespread.

From a layman’s point of view, one has to ask whether a horse who really does require as many as four therapeutic medicines a couple of days before a race is actually fit to race?

The press release concludes by saying: the NHA is in the process of conducting further investigations into practices, methodologies, mitigatory procedures, as well as considering possible amendments to the Rules, in order to eliminate such practices that some stakeholders wrongly believe to be acceptable and humane! 

Hopefully the rule changes will see unfair practices taking place under the auspices of legal practices being stamped out. They are particularly unfair to the horse.

However, likewise, the NHA could perhaps be more specific when referring to “prohibited” substances. 

Their definition of the word covers completely banned substances down to therapeutic substances, whereas press releases do not differentiate and just say “prohibited.”

The NHA do have a definition called FORBIDDEN substances, but this appears to align with what the IFHA calls PROHIBITED substances.

And take note that the NHA’s PROHIBITED class 1 substances include FORBIDDEN substances.

All very confusing.

Readers of such a press release above are left guessing i.e are the prohibited substances forbidden substances or are they just class 4 prohibited substances i.e. therapeutic medication?

However, another big debate happening at the moment, apart from the above, revolves around intra-articular injections.

A rule change has already taken place to deal with that practice, which it seems must have been an aspect of medication that was also being abused.