Racing: Horseman shocked at watchdog's liquor tactics

By Michael Guerin

Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

Racing integrity bosses say there is no witch hunt on for drugs and alcohol in the industry even after going to extraordinary lengths to test two young reinsmen.

And the main horseman involved admits he was shocked by a racing investigator turning up at his house two weeks ago but he now understands why.

Harness racing driver Bob Butt pulled out of his one-race engagement to drive at the Rangiora meeting on May 29 after waking up feeling ill.

Investigators employed by the Racing Integrity Unit oversaw urine testing at the meeting, as has become more routine in racing in the last year, aimed primarily at alcohol levels in drivers and jockeys.

Already this season two drivers, including Butt, have been suspended for turning up to drive at the races with an excess level of alcohol in their system.

In both cases the horsemen were still over the limit after drinking the night before, not on the day of the races after waking up.

Suspicious Butt may have dodged the meeting because he was tipped off about the testing, an investigator travelled to his home nearby and after being unable to get an answer, sought the aid of a fellow horseman who worked next door to go into Butt's house and wake him.

The investigator then asked for the RIU testing van to come to the property and test both Butt and fellow horseman Matt Anderson, who had fulfilled his obligations at the races and gone home without being tested. Anderson was asked to drive to the Butt property, again a surprising move considering his raceday obligations were over and he was no longer working.

Both Butt and Anderson's tests came back negative or under the limit.

The incident has angered Butt's father, well-known trainer David Butt, who says the RIU and stewards should not be able to come on to his property and conduct testing there.

"There are a whole lot of issues around it, not the least being OSH issues about having people on our farm," says David Butt.

But while shocked to be woken from his sickbed and asked to provide a sample, Bob Butt isn't letting the incident sour him.

"I'm not too worried to be honest," he told the Herald.

"I'm not a big fan of them coming to my home to do it because I was just sick and only had one drive so didn't bother going.

"But I also know why they test for it. So I'm moving on."

After news of the extreme testing measures started to become public the RIU sought a legal opinion and say they are confident they were within their rights.

The RIU sent Butt a letter yesterday outlining that legal opinion.

The RIU's chief investigator, former police officer Neil Grimstone, says while the measures taken to test Butt and Anderson were rare, they do not amount to a witch hunt.

"When Mr Butt didn't attend the meeting, and only pulled out after it may have become obvious there was testing going on, that may have raised some suspicions," says Grimstone.

"But his test showed nothing irregular and he has no case to answer, we want to be very clear about that.

"We are not looking to catch people inside the racing industry who want to drink, even if they choose to do so to excess.

"We are about providing a safe environment at race and trials meetings and that can extend to all licensed racing people, but most importantly trainers and drivers.

"But this is not the start of some random, out of race or trials day testing of everybody in the racing industry for alcohol or drugs.

"Obviously drugs are illegal but alcohol isn't and what racing people do, within limits of course, away from race and trials days is their business."

On Thursday senior South Island jockey Chris Johnson was suspended from riding for two months after pleading guilty to turning up to ride at a trial meeting with cannabis in his system.

- NZ Herald

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