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Saliva testing pilot under way on UK racecourses

A pilot programme to assess the use of saliva testing as a method of screening for cocaine and some other banned substances is now under way on British racecourses.

The testing method uses oral swabs to provide a near-instant indication as to whether substances are present in a rider’s system, above the existing thresholds.

British racing will become the first major sport in Britain to utilise on-the-day screening for banned substances through oral swabs, should the pilot prove successful.  

Under the pilot, any jockey who does not test negative would be stood down from riding for the day, which brings with it added benefits in safeguarding human and equine welfare on raceday. 

Tests have taken place at Kempton Park on Monday and Lingfield Park on Tuesday this week, with all jockeys returning a negative sample.

The pilot will continue over a period of two months, during which time the testing methodology and raceday procedures can be assessed and improved where necessary, prior to a decision being taken as to whether the matrix can be rolled out on a more permanent basis. 

Saliva testing is highly cost effective, and if the pilot proves successful there could result a significant increase in raceday testing, which would be further supported by increased budget being allocated to testing. 

Brant Dunshea, Chief Regulatory Officer for the BHA, said: “Saliva testing is a progressive next step for our testing and surveillance of prohibited substances. In particular, the fact that it provides near-instant results means that we are now able to screen for the substance on the day of race. 

“The fact that it is a more cost-effective methodology will also allow us to significantly ramp up our testing capacity – something that we are supporting further through the allocation of an enhanced testing budget. This should serve to act both as a deterrent to those who might consider using prohibited substances and provide reassurance to those who are competing on raceday.

“We are grateful to the Professional Jockeys Association for working alongside us in developing this methodology. It is important that it is assessed through a substantive trial period before we commit to it in the longer term, but this trial period is the final step in what has been an extensive process.”

Paul Struthers, Chief Executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, who assisted with the development of the pilot, said: “We see the introduction of saliva testing as a tremendously important development, and it is supported by our members. 

“An effective deterrent against the use of prohibited substances is an essential piece of the jigsaw in terms of keeping our jockeys healthy and safe. The increased testing which this methodology will allow, alongside the ability for on-the-day screening, represents a significant step towards that ambition.”

Notes:
 
1. Saliva testing will be used alongside urine testing with a broad range of substances detectable. Raceday saliva tests will act as a preliminary screen, and any jockey who does not test negative on raceday would then be required to take a confirmatory test for the purposes of any further investigation or disciplinary action. 
2. Any jockey who returns a non-negative test will also be contacted by the BHA’s Chief Medical Adviser to discuss any care and support that may be appropriate.
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