O'Brien warns of feed saga's 'massive ramifications'

Aidan O'Brien. Photo: Sportsfile Aidan O'Brien. Photo: Sportsfile

A batch of horse feed contaminated with a prohibited substance which promotes growth in cattle has massive implications beyond Aidan O'Brien's four non-runners in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (4 October).

Such a mass withdrawal on the eve of a big race - reducing the field to 11 runners - is unprecedented for any reason other than a change in the ground and O'Brien will not be the only one looking for answers from Gain Equine Nutrition, which supplied the feed.

He had no choice but to withdraw his four Arc runners, including Serpentine, who had been supplemented at a cost of €72,000, after tests on Friday returned positive for zilpaterol. His sons, Joseph and Donnacha, who feed Gain products too, also withdrew their runners.

Apart from being denied a chance to win Europe's premier race, the biggest prize on offer to European horses, and a loss of earnings, it may have consequences for stallion values, with Europe's premier yearling sales taking place this week at Newmarket. Buyers can return a yearling to the vendor if it tests positive for a prohibited substance.

"I don't know where it will all go," Aidan O'Brien said. "The ramifications are massive. I don't know where it will start or stop."

The last time there was a major food contamination scandal, in 2014, a batch of Dodson and Horrell feed became contaminated with poppy seeds which had grown among some linseed.

Before that, there was a similar case when the Willie Mullins-trained Be My Royal was disqualified after winning the 2002 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, with long-term legal ramifications.

Occasionally something slips through the net, but feed manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure the safety of their products.

Most of Gain's raw materials would be sourced in Ireland, where it has its headquarters.

However, soya, which will not ripen in Europe, usually comes from North or South America in the form of meal, which makes it the prime suspect in this case because zilpaterol, which is toxic to horses in large doses and can take a while to clear a horse's system, is licensed in the United States.

Maize is sourced from the south of France but is generally imported whole, so is less prone to contamination.

As a general rule of thumb, in Britain a feed manufacturer will test a 300-gram sample from each 10-ton batch of feed and wait for clearance before sending it out. At £120 a test, it would be prohibitively expensive to test every ton.

Gain had laboratories working on its feed over the weekend trying to find out where it came from.

It will be insured but this is a business where reputation is everything and the goodwill built up over years of supplying Europe's top stables will have taken a big hit.

Gain put out a statement yesterday expressing its disappointment that some of its customers had to withdraw their horses from important events.

"We are equally disappointed for all our valued customers across Ireland, UK and France who we advised on Friday to refrain from using our product until we have fully investigated the source of the potential contamination."

It added: "Zilpaterol has never formed part of any formulation in any of our animal nutrition range."

© Daily Telegraph, London/ www.independent.ie

Photo: Aidan O'Brien (©Sportsfile)