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Horse racing HAS a cocaine problem, insists PJA chief Paul Struthers

Racing must consider toughening up penalties, according to the chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association who has conceded the sport has a problem with cocaine.

Paul Struthers made the admission in an interview with ITV in the week that Benoit De La Sayette, a rising star in the apprentice ranks, tested positive for the drug.

Struthers said: ‘There is a problem. It’s obvious there’s a problem. Do I think it’s a widescale problem? No.

The sport of horse racing has a cocaine problem, according to Professional Jockeys Association chief executive Paul Struthers

‘Do I think it’s a problem that reflects the prevalence of cocaine in society and maybe the prevalence of cocaine usage in younger people and in racing staff as well? Yes, I do. 

‘Increasing testing is the biggest priority, and the BHA have increased their testing budget this year. We’re about to start a pilot scheme of saliva testing when you’ll get results within 10-15 minutes.

‘You will also be able to significantly increase the volume of testing because it’s so much cheaper. Then the other element we’re looking at is increasing the penalties.

‘I would never allow it just to be, “Right, someone’s tested positive, ban them for two years”. 

‘I’ve dealt with so many young jockeys where that would have such a negative impact and you might have made one mistake.

‘So it’s looking at increasing maybe the starting point penalty which is a flat penalty of six months and maybe looking at increasing it to nine months or 12 months but a range depending on the circumstances.’ 

The admission comes with rising star jockey Benoit De La Sayette, 18, facing six-month ban after testing positive for the drug

 The admission comes with rising star jockey Benoit De La Sayette, 18, facing six-month ban after testing positive for the drug 

De La Sayette, an 18-year-old apprentice, last month claimed he was the victim of a smear campaign after a video emerged of him allegedly taking cocaine

De La Sayette, an 18-year-old apprentice, last month claimed he was the victim of a smear campaign after a video emerged of him allegedly taking cocaine 

De La Sayette, an 18-year-old apprentice, last month claimed he was the victim of a smear campaign after a video emerged of him allegedly taking cocaine in the aftermath of his win on John Gosden-trained Haqeeqy in the Lincoln Handicap.

A statement issued by the PJA on his behalf said the video had been edited to give to give a false impression and with De La Sayette denying he had ever taken cocaine.

But a hair test arranged by the BHA four days after De La Sayette’s Lincoln win tested positive for the drug.

The jockey still insists he did not take cocaine at the party where the video was shot or in the build-up to the Lincoln but now admits he was not candid with those close to him and advising him.

The 18-year-old rider enjoyed huge success on board Haqeeqy for his boss, trainer John Gosden, in the Unibet Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster on March 27

De La Sayette said: ‘I cannot apologise enough for my actions, both in respect of taking cocaine and of misleading those around me.

‘There are no excuses and I am sorry for letting down my family, the team at Clarehaven Stables, Mr Gosden and my colleagues in the weighing room.’ 

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy was handed a three-month ban for testing positive for cocaine in November last year.

French racing authorities accepted his testimony that he had been contaminated after having sex with a woman he later learned was a drug user. 

Struthers also expressed the importance of rehabilitation when tackling drug use in racing.  

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy was handed a three-month ban for testing positive for cocaine

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy was handed a three-month ban for testing positive for cocaine

‘We’ve taken the view and the position where we might not have condemned the behaviour as much as we should and I know that’s upset some of the other jockeys in the weighing room who think we’re soft and tolerant of it when we’re not,’ he added.

‘But equally when you’re dealing with them as individuals, very rarely have we come across someone who’s tested positive for cocaine who didn’t have other issues, whether they were mental health and well-being issues, whether it was issues relating to alcohol and that’s why we’ve done a lot of education around it through the Jockey Matters films, Sporting Chance, who we use to provide all our mental health support for jockeys.

‘They’re presenting to the young jockeys when they come through on the licence course as well

‘So it is rehabilitation, it is re-education. It is putting an arm around them but at the same time that approach alone hasn’t been working.

‘We’ve had five. I know there are a couple more in the pipeline as well and if we increase testing, which we’ve been calling for four-five years, I suspect we’ll have a few more.

‘There’s a bit more pain to go through first. They’re elite athletes and we can look at other sports where they take a much different view to social and recreational drugs but we don’t want it and the jockeys don’t want it.’

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