It’s a week that should have been overwhelmingly positive and celebratory for horse racing.
Punters were welcomed back to trackside at tier two venues including Lingfield, Haydock and Ludlow, and on-course bookmakers were also back in the betting ring as the sport took a step towards normality at last.
But the good mood has been marred somewhat with the news that Oisin Murphy has been banned from the saddle for three months following his positive test for cocaine.
The 25-year-old is the latest in a long line of jockeys who have succumbed to the drug, and once again the Professional Jockeys’ Association will be pressured to investigate how bad the problem with cocaine is amongst those within the sport.
Murphy’s ban is an unfortunate one – the authorities have accepted that he himself didn’t use cocaine on the night in question, which occurred in Chantilly on July 18. The Irishman spent the evening with a woman who was a recreational drug user, and the contamination led to the jockey’s positive testing.
The ban will run from December 11 to March 11, allowing the two-time champion jockey on the flat to return in plenty of time for the 2021 campaign.
“I feel like the sentence fits the crime,” Murphy said after his punishment was revealed.
“I made a massive error and I’m missing out on plenty. I should be in Japan this time of the year – I love riding there – and I’m going to miss the big races in Saudi Arabia and Super Saturday in Dubai.
“But I need to put things right and I need to use my time over the next three months to do the right thing and take the right steps. This is a huge lesson.”
Environmental Contamination Does Not Account for Racing’s Drug Problem
The definition of Murphy’s situation is ‘environmental contamination’ – where drugs can find themselves into an individual’s vicinity, thus leading to the positive test.
It’s not the first time such a scenario has been experienced, with tennis star Richard Gasquet also seeing a 12-month ban for cocaine use overturned due to environmental contamination after he kissed a woman in a nightclub in Miami.
However, there are those in racing for whom cocaine use is anything but involuntary. Nathan Evans has this week been banned for six months for testing positive for the drug at York racecourse back in August, while former jockey Ryan While was suspended for two years for ‘misleading investigators’ after he failed to offer a sample when requested at Bath back in 2019.
The amateur Conor Murphy was banned for five years by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board and Damien Melia for four years after positive tests for cocaine – two of the longest punishments ever metered out, and they were joined by countrymen Ger Fox (a former Irish Grand National winner), Roger Quinlan and Danny Benson, who were all banned for two years back in 2017.
Ruby Walsh broached the matter in a column he wrote on the increasing usage of cocaine among jockeys, writing:
“I suppose drugs are an increasing part of society. It’s disappointing, but I’d hope the Turf Club would increase the amount of testing they do, and I’d agree with the proposal of longer bans as a deterrent.”