Grand National winner Dr Richard Newland says he has witnessed fellow trainers overusing medication for horses, calling the practice “completely against the spirit of good equine welfare”.
Newland, a former general practitioner, has spoken out publicly on the issue of drug use in racing, following the sentencing of leading US trainer Jorge Navarro, who will spend five years in prison after pleading guilty to orchestrating an elaborate and significant programme to enhance the performance of his horses.
Worcestershire-based Newland has experienced the issue up close in recent months after paying over £50,000 for three-year-old French import Drop The Pilot, before having to return the horse when tests – taken before his arrival – returned a positive sample for bisphosphonate Tildren, a drug banned for horses under the age of four because it can lead to fractures.
Speaking on the Racing Debate, Newland told Sky Sports Racing: “Equine welfare has to come first. We all came into this sport because we love horses. All my owners would say the same thing.
“Corticosteroids are very effective medications, for humans and horses, to reduce pain and inflammation but they don’t change an underlying problem.
“What I’m witnessing at the moment is horses in some yards, it appears, are being given huge numbers of corticosteroid injections, even sometimes when they’re not lame and haven’t got a problem.
“That, obviously, is completely against the spirit of good equine welfare. It’s just not right.
“I had a bad experience with two horses coming from the same yard in France, both of which broke a leg on our gallops.
“It may be pure coincidence and we know these things happen but I’m pretty convinced, with my medical hat on, that these horses are being over-medicalised.
“They’re being given far too many medications at a young age to get them to campaign as racehorses, when they may not be ready or physically capable to do so.
“The problem is that the fracture may come further down the line.
“If you give lots of drugs that horses shouldn’t be having, it’s fundamentally putting horses at risk.”