Hot on the heels of Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni's fall from grace over the use of the anabolic steroids stanozolol and ethylestranol the BHA has revealed that a number of Newmarket trainer Gerard Butler's horses have tested positive to a substance believed to be stanozolol.

Butler told the Independent that four of his horses had been treated with Sungate®, the active substance of which is stanozolol, on the advice of his vet.  Butler has also stated that the medication had been entered in his official medical records and that the records had been reviewed without comment by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) in connection with another matter.   

Coming so soon after the Al Zarooni scandal this is not great PR for the Racing Industry however it would appear that the motives may have been very different in each case.  In the Butler case the intended use seems to be therapuetic, the dose apparently was a fraction of that used to enhance performance, and the records do not appear show any attempt to deceive. 

The novel use of stanozolol to reduce osteophyte formation, reduce subchondral bone reaction and promote articular cartilage regeneration has generated interest in a number of quarters over the last few years.  Whilst there is published research on the effects of intra-articular treatment with stanozolol on synovial membrane and cartilage in an ovine model of osteoarthritis (Spadari et al 2013) there is less information available regarding its use in the horse.  Clinical research presented at Amsterdam's Voorjaarsdagen Conference in Spring 2012 demonstrated possible therapeutic benefits and called for further prospective studies of possible efficacy and action.  At BEVA Congress in the autumn of 2012 reference was also made to the apparent clinical benefits of intra-articular stanolozol and the banned nature of anabolic steroids in training was noted.  

Sungate® is a preparation for intra-articular injection that is produced by the Italian company ACME S.r.l.  The recommended dose rate is 1-5mg (0.2-1ml), depending on joint size, once a week for six weeks. This is significantly different from the recommended IM dosage for general anabolic use of stanozolol (0.55mg/kg e.g. 250mg for a 450kg horse).   Sungate® is not licensed for use in the horse in the UK but may be legally imported via a Special Import Certificate (SIC).

The BHA rules are clear regarding the fact that stanozolol, as all anabolic steroids, is banned in horses in racing or in training.  Anabolic steroids can, however, currently be used therapeutically to treat horses that are recorded as being "out of training" but BEVA understands that this derogation was designed to provide for treatment in situations such as where a youngster is suffering from Lawsonia rather than to allow racehorses to dip in and out of training for a banned treatment.

At the BHA's request the National Trainers Federation notified its members in March this year to avoid using Sungate® because it contained an anabolic steroid.  Having now discussed the issue with the BHA, BEVA would reiterate that all vets should consider the Rules of Racing very carefully before administering Sungate®, or other banned substances, to any Thoroughbred. 

To increase the level of hot water still further Gerard Butler also appears to have indicated that, in a number of cases, he administered the Sungate® himself.  The RCVS have confirmed that they consider intra-articular injection not to be a minor medical procedure and therefore, if it is carried out by a lay-person, it is in contravention of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.