UK trainer fined £10,000 for arsenic positive in seaweed feed

UK trainer Richard Hannon has been hit with a £10,000 fine by the independent judicial panel in a three-year-old case following a positive test for arsenic returned by Oh Purple Reigns at Newmarket.

The panel found that a seaweed supplement fed to his string by Hannon – something practised both by his father and grandfather – was the principal cause of the positive test, and that the administration was both intentional and that all reasonable efforts to avoid an adverse analytical finding had not been taken.

In delivering the fine of £10,000 – the very upper limit of the recommended range of penalties – panel chair Brian Barker QC said of Hannon: "The rules must be upheld and we are particularly concerned that this is not the first time Mr Hannon has appeared before the disciplinary panel.

"Perhaps Mr Hannon could have been told that testing only came into existence in January 2019. However, he was given reasonable advice, which need not have been given, which he chose not to take."

The case had been adjourned from a full day's hearing on May 26 after substantial amounts of scientific evidence was both presented and cross-examined by both sides.

Oh Purple Reign returned a level of 426 micrograms of arsenic per milligram of urine in a pre-race sample before finishing last of six at Newmarket on September 26, 2019.

The BHA's case was supported by a phone call to Hannon made by its then-director of equine health David Sykes, who informed the trainer that his string had been returning elevated levels of arsenic in samples – including one that had nearly breached the 300 microgram per millilitre threshold – and that the use of a feed supplement containing seaweed was a potential cause.

Sykes told the original hearing that having tested batches of the seaweed, he had suggested to Hannon that he halve the ration or even cease giving it in the daily feed altogether.

The BHA also argued the scientific evidence presented before the panel on day one of the hearing pointed to the seaweed as the major contributing factor to the positive result, as well as the fact that samples taken from Hannon's horses had gone back to background level at the start of 2020, once the amount of seaweed used in the feed mix was reduced or ended.

Summing up for the regulator, Charlotte Davison said: "Mr Hannon is asking you to effectively determine that any trainer can turn a blind eye to what is in the supplements they are feeding their horses and then escape penalty by simply saying they didn't know what they contained.

"Mr Hannon is also asking you to find that when he stopped feeding the seaweed, his horses' levels all miraculously dropped back to background levels, but that the seaweed wasn't the cause of the elevated levels or the adverse analytical findings."

Laying out the case for the defence, Richard Liddell QC sought to contest the BHA's certainty over the seaweed being the most significant factor in Oh Purple Reign's breach of the threshold for arsenic; that Hannon had shown no intent to administer arsenic; and that if the panel found there was no intent, that the trainer had taken "all reasonable precautions" to avoid a breach of the anti-doping rules.

Liddell dwelt on what he referred to as Hannon's "mindset" in continuing to use seaweed after conversations with Sykes, saying he had not been made aware that the BHA had only begun testing for arsenic in January 2019, and thus he assumed he had only had one horse approach the threshold throughout his and his father and grandfather's careers.

The range for financial penalties set out in the guidelines to the rules of racing runs from £750 to £10,000, although under rule L28.2, the panel had discretion to go beyond that.

The BHA pressed for a greater sanction on the basis that Hannon had been unwilling to heed the advice given to him by Sykes, as well as the fact that he had paid fines of £2,000, £5,000 and £8,000 in connection with three unintentional positives for metabolites of the painkiller Tramadol dating back to 2015.

The panel determined that the case "does not quite fall into the exceptional category" in choosing not to exceed the recommended range of fines.