Thursday, 25 May 2017


The broodmare Set Free immediately comes to mind every time I hear the name  Hughie Morrison . Whether that means he's not been successful enough as a trainer to be recognised by racing fans from the 1970's as a stand alone name is a moot point.

Morrison's family owned Set Free who was the dam of Oaks winners Juliette Marny and Scintillate, along with the St Leger winner Julio Mariner. He came late to training after working in the outside world and you could argue a strong case that given the ammunition he's had down the years he has outperformed more than underperformed, the highlight being two individual July Cup winners.

Unfortunately for Morrison it could be that he is going to be remembered most for being the trainer of Our Little Sister who tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone after finishing last of eight runners at Wolverhampton on the 14th January this year.

If you are looking to fuel the flames you can factually point out that the filly, although a very poor performer, was racing off her lowest mark to date,55. Furthermore her best piece of form in the book was at the same venue almost a year previous when finishing runner up and the apprentice who was aboard her then was back on board for only the second time since. Finally, if you want to be mischievous you can add that her price shortened from 22/1 into 12/1, though in a market like that it would only have taken pennies.

Of course if she had of won then the more likely she would have been called into the testing shed which begs the question of why she was chosen to be tested, a tip off or pure luck with a random choice.

The use of steroids in horse racing has been occurring for approximately 70 years. We hear tales of geldings walking around the paddock with erections as long ago as the 1950's. And it is taken for granted that many of the most successful trainers in the olden days made use of them.

It is also common knowledge that two trainers who did well with a few French imported jumpers in the late 1970's - early 1980's were taking advantage of steroids during a window when the poachers were ahead of the gamekeepers.

Both these trainers have now passed on but it seems quite funny now that they allowed the Timeform photographers down for the posed portraits of a few of the horses involved and the imposing, eye catching physiques are there for all to see.

In fact down the years many perpetrators have left clues for the lenses of the Timeform photographers. It's the consistency of theses physiques that catches them out. On the balance of probabilities something has been going on.

When trainers cross to illegality to upgrade their fortunes patterns usually emerge. Horses in all departments of the yard improve, acquisitions from other yards improve considerable amounts, the whispering starts.

This returns us to Morrison, a trainer with no previous in this area. There has been no sudden upturn in form. Just a yard steadily moving along, some years a bit better than others without any drastic long term swings. He has issued a plea for information with the offer of a £10,000 reward and has not ruled out the perpetrator being a member of staff. The Police and independent private investigators have been brought in. The onus is on Morrison to prove his innocence.

All are clearly very jumpy and we had that incident the other week where the travelling head lad reported one of the staff for urinating inside a  racecourse stable. No doubt a chilled, surreal atmosphere is prevalent  inside Moulton Paddocks at the moment. Jobs and reputations are on the line.

What if the puzzle is not solved ? The buck will then stop with Morrison, and his future will lie in the hands of the authorities and he will have his licence revoked. The question being will it be for a period that limits the damage and allows him to return after a temporary handover to stand in. Or will it be so severe that he will have to start all over again with long standing patrons moved on to pastures new.

Given his clean record it is likely the punishment will not be insurmountable in the long term which will lead to the inevitable accusations of the incident being fudged and suspicions of information relating to the case being kept out the public domain to protect the image of the sport.

This could run and run.

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