Flat racing under the influence: Kieran Shoemark and his alleged doping

By Laura Donnellan, School of Law, University of Limerick, Ireland

On 28 November 2018, the Professional Jockeys’ Association (PJA) announced that one of its most promising members, Kieran Shoemark, a 22-year-old flat race jockey, had stepped down, following an alleged anti-doping rule violation.

Shoemark, who works for Roger Charlton of Beckhampton Stables, is believed to have tested positive for cocaine, a banned substance that falls under Schedule 3 of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Rules (available at: http://newrules.britishhorseracing.com/Orders-and-rules&staticID=126147&depth=3).

Shoemark rode 65 winners in 2017 and had a prosperous first half of 2018 until he suffered a fall in June 2018, resulting in broken ribs and a punctured lung (Racing UK, ‘Kieran Shoemark facing lengthy ban after failing drugs test’, 7 December 2018, https://www.racinguk.com/news/shoemark-fails-drugs-test-pja). Shoemark returned to racing in August and won the Group 3 race at Ascot in October 2018 with Projection, the Charlton-trained horse. The jockey has not been seen riding publically since 24 November 2018.

Schedule 3 is titled: Banned substances and notifiable medications. The rules are divided into two parts.

Part 1 relates to banned substances and states that the 14 category list is not exhaustive, the emphasis is on substances that impair the performance of a jockey and bans ‘[t]he use, deliberate or otherwise, of any substance that may cause advantage to the rider or impair his capability, judgement, coordination or alertness’. The PJA on its website states that horseracing requires ‘a safe arena for competition in the most dangerous of all professional sports’ (PJA, Banned and Notifiable Substances, http://www.thepja.co.uk/members-info/regulatory/bannedsubstances/). The Chief Medical Officer of the BHA coordinates the testing of jockeys and Concateno, a private limited company based in the United Kingdom, carries out the testing. Cocaine falls under stimulants and the rules further provide that cocaine metabolites are screened at 300 nanograms per millimetre (ng/ml) and confirmed at 150 ng/ml. Schedule 3 does not define cocaine metabolites, Randox Toxicology provides a list of the various compounds which includes benzoylecgonine (Randox Toxicology, Cocaine Metabolite (Benzoylecgonine), https://www.randoxtoxicology.com/products/elisa/cocaine-metabolite-Benzoylecgonine/).

Part 2 of Schedule 3 relates to notifiable medications, the list is non-exhaustive and refers to anti-depressants, benzodiazepines, sedatives, anti-psychotic drugs and ‘related substances’ (http://newrules.britishhorseracing.com/Orders-and-rules&staticID=126147&depth=3). It is widely reported that Shoemark tested positive for cocaine and thus Part 1 of Schedule 3 is applicable in his case. The BHA has been unable to comment on the matter pending a full investigation. However, Paul Struthers, Chief Executive of PJA, released a statement on behalf of Shoemark expressing the jockey’s regret for his actions that led to the doping infraction (cited by Greg Wood, ‘Talking Horses: Rising star Kieran Shoemark faces lengthy drugs ban’, The Guardian, 7 December 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2018/dec/07/talking-horses-kieran-shoemark-faces-lengthy-drugs-ban-after-positive-test-horse-racing).

Shoemark apologised to his employers, his colleagues and the ‘wider sport’ (ibid). He fully accepts responsibility for his actions and ‘is determined to face up to any issues he may have and with the support of his family and the PJA is already fully engaged with the support structures the PJA has in place’ (ibid).

Struthers stated that the PJA wholly supports ‘robust’ anti-doping provisions and that the BHA has the ‘full backing’ of the PJA in enhancing its current anti-doping policies (ibid). While accepting that Shoemark had breached the rules, Struthers spoke of the importance of having necessary support structures in place, ‘[w]e can condemn the behaviour without condemning the individual’ (ibid).

Jockeys may be tested at any time on the racecourse and off-course in certain circumstances (Schedule 4-The protocol for the testing of riders for banned substances and procedures for notifiable medication,

Part 1, Rule 6.1 and Part 8, Sampling Tests Conducted Off-Course, Rules 66-74). The ‘biological matrix’ used for sampling includes: urine, sweat, saliva, blood, breather or hair (ibid). A breathalyser is used to detect alcohol and in most cases, a urine sample is taken for drug testing with the samples divided into A and B (Schedule 4, Part 2, General Testing Procedures for Banned Substances, Rules 12-14). A rider who tests positive twice for alcohol at or above the permitted limit is suspended for the day (Schedule 4, Part 1, 8). On testing positive for a banned substance or notifiable medications, the Licencing Committee is empowered to suspend the rider’s licence or permit with immediate effect, pending a disciplinary hearing (Schedule 4, Part 1, Rule 9).

The rider is entitled to an expedited hearing.

S/he may request the testing of sample B and if this sample yields a negative result (there is no presence of a banned substance), the suspension is overturned immediately (Schedule 4, Part 1, Rule 9). The procedures for urine sampling are detailed in Part 4 of Schedule 4, Rules 23-45. The Sampling Officer informs the rider of the procedure, with the rider choosing a sealed plastic container to provide the sample and a minimum of 30 ml of urine is required.

The BHA’s Guide to Procedures and Penalties 2018 (Disciplinary Panel-Recommended Penalties for Breaches of Rules (D) 61-(D) 67, pp58-59, http://newrules.britishhorseracing.com/_documents/guide_to_procedures_and_penalties.pdf) set out the recommended penalties with an entry point and a range. Under ‘Banned Substances and Notifiable Medications, for a first offence the entry point is two months with a range from one to six months period of suspension. A second offence, within 24 months, has an entry point of nine months and a range from six months to two years. A third office, within 36 months, has an entry point of three years and range from two to five years. However, there is an exception for cocaine where the rider will normally have his/her licence withdrawn at the top of the range.

If Shoemark is found to have committed a doping violation, he will be facing a six-month ban as it is his first offence.

Cocaine and other banned substances are prohibited for a number of reasons. In the main, they are banned in horseracing as it is a dangerous sport which requires concentration, alertness, coordination and judgement. Cocaine is a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (1971, ch. 38, Schedule 2, Part 1, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/38/pdfs/ukpga_19710038_en.pdf). It carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison for possession with penalties increasing to life imprisonment for possession with intent to supply.

The use of recreational drugs tarnishes the image of the sport.

It may be that Shoemark (allegedly) ingested cocaine in order to keep his weight down.

In December 2017, the Irish Turf Club handed down a two-year ban to three jockeys after they tested positive for cocaine at a meeting in Galway in October 2017. The Irish Jockeys Association (IJA), while advocating harsher penalties, alluded to the extra pressures that are placed on jockeys. Andrew Coonan, the IJA Secretary, accepted that jockey are professional athletes and have a duty to their employers, their colleagues and the sport; however, he added:

“But for jockeys you have to add in factors such as significant weight reduction, weight restrictions and the associated problems with that. So you can understand why they could be more susceptible to what they might see as a replacement” (quoted by Brian O’Connor, ‘Irish Jockeys Association supports stiffer penalties for drug use’, Irish Times, 1 December 2017, https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/racing/irish-jockeys-association-supports-stiffer-penalties-for-drug-use-1.3312588)

The facts surrounding Shoemark’s suspension are currently unknown, although his statement, made through the PJA, would suggest a recreational drug was found in his system. Until the BHA Disciplinary Panel hears the matter and the circumstances and resulting penalty are published, this is all mere conjecture.

Laura Donnellan may be contacted by e-mail at ‘Laura.Donnellan@ul.ie’