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Horse racing action, hooves, legs and grass flying. Picture: iStock

By Mike Moon (The Citizen)

Brand new NHA rule bans intra-articular treatment of horses within seven days of a race

Anyone who’s had an injection into a limb joint will confirm that it’s memorable.
First there is the experience of a hypodermic needle ripping through skin and flesh and tickling the innermost workings of the knee, ankle or shoulder; shock at the pain and physical invasion. Then, a bit later, blessed relief as the inserted muti starts taking effect.
This is called intra-articular treatment and it’s causing trouble in horse racing.
Earlier this month, the National Horseracing Authority (NHA) announced it had launched an “ongoing investigation and pending inquiry” into “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”.
Banned substances
This followed a testing swoop on Highveld training centres that saw the withdrawal from imminent competition of three horses from the yard of up-and-coming young Turffontein trainer Tony Peter.
At the time, the NHA would not comment on specifics, other than to say tests proved positive for banned substances.
The policing body has now put out another press release, announcing a new rule, adopted late last week – rule 72.1.46, which states that “no PERSON shall race a HORSE within seven days, calculated inclusively from the date of treatment, after the administration of any intra-articular treatment”.
The NHA explained: ‘This rule amendment, although not the panacea to the horse welfare and integrity issues that have been raised during the early stages of the investigation, will advance the end goal of ensuring that horses are participating within their physical limits.
“The NHA advocates a level playing field for all and this includes the horse, which is the most important link of the chain, but is without a voice.
“Any future decisions that are taken following the conclusion of the investigation will cater for this objective and the accurate recordal of any administration of substances, prohibited or not, will form the basis of this continued initiative. The NHA is currently considering various options to ensure compliance.
“Trainers are reminded to ensure all treatments and procedures are accurately and legibly recorded in the veterinary treatment registers by their veterinarians, including the route of administration.”
Short-term relief
The jab in the joint seems to be of particular concern. And an immediate question arises: why now?
Joint injections are not a new thing. They’ve been used on patients with inflammatory conditions for donkey’s years – to treat the likes of arthritis, gout and tendinitis, usually with cortisone but sometimes with more complicated applications such as platelet-rich plasma after “blood spinning”.
Such jabs can provide short-term relief from pain – for a few weeks or a few months.
They are routinely and legally used in sports such as football and cricket. But, of course, that’s with the permission of the recipient. The point about horses having no voice is mighty pertinent.
As is the one about a racehorse performing outside its physical limits; as is one about strenuous exercise with injury but without pain possibly causing permanent physical damage.
All that said, one would have thought the NHA had twigged this and been on top of it a long time ago. Its regular testing of horses in competition presumably picks up drug traces within its circumscribed medication windows. Or maybe not.
If new drugs or doping techniques have emerged, hopefully the probe will bring swift action.

Doping horses in the name of making money is intolerable, as is cruelty, but a lot of grey areas swirl around such matters.

Meanwhile, confusion in the yards is understandable.