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Jockey Adrian McCarthy regretful after ban for being 1,000 times over cocaine limit

Jockey Adrian McCarthy, pictured at Chelmsford races in October 2019

A jockey has expressed regret after he was 1,000 times above the cocaine limit in a test at Chelmsford races in 2020.

Adrian McCarthy said he was depressed during lockdown and took the drug four or five times while drinking in a pub a day or two before the fixture.

The 42-year-old had his riding licence withdrawn for six months by an independent disciplinary panel.

Panel chairman James O’Mahony said the use of cocaine by riders was “pernicious” for the sport.

In another case heard on Thursday, jockey Finley Marsh, 22, also had his licence withdrawn for six months.

He admitted evading anti-doping testers after taking cocaine, calling it “a mistake that broke me for a very long time”.

‘I made a mistake. I regret it’

McCarthy tested positive for metabolites of the Class A drug after riding at Chelmsford’s evening meeting on 15 October 2020.

He gave a reading of 150,300 nanograms per millilitre, when the threshold for riding is 150 ng/ml.

McCarthy said he had been “in a really bad place” last year and had tried to take his own life, but was looking to a brighter future after counselling and support.

“I just got into a bit of a rut. Drinking all the time, using drugs, cocaine, and trying to make things better. Obviously it doesn’t make things better,” he told the hearing.

“I’m in a lot better place now than I was before, I just want to get my head down and do what’s right.

“We all make mistakes. I made a mistake, I regret it. I just have to look forward and work hard.”

Cocaine ‘pernicious for racing’

Champion flat jockey Oisin Murphy has recently returned from serving a three-month ban after a positive test for cocaine in France, though he denies ever taking the drug.

Former champions Kieren Fallon (twice) and Frankie Dettori also served bans after using cocaine.

Last month, it was announced that racing is to become the first major sport in Britain to introduce saliva testing that will screen jockeys on the day for banned substances, including cocaine.

A pilot scheme is expected to start within the next few weeks.

Charlotte Davison, presenting the case for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) against McCarthy, said his sample was taken after he rode in the 8.30pm race last October.

Davison said McCarthy had been honest about his “chronic drug use” – taking cocaine about three times a week from May 2020 until his positive test, but never since.

“I was in a really bad place, didn’t care about myself, didn’t care about anything, didn’t care about being here,” McCarthy said.

O’Mahony said riding while over the limit could endanger fellow riders and horses.

“You’ve let down an awful lot of people and the sport. Cocaine taking in this context is pernicious to the sport,” said the panel chairman.

He acknowledged there was some “light at the end of the tunnel” in McCarthy’s honesty and determination to make a fresh start.

As his licence had been suspended since 22 October, he will be eligible to compete again next month.

Jockey Finley Marsh
Jockey Finley Marsh said he would never make the same mistake again

Marsh, meanwhile, admitted breaching the rule which covers conduct prejudicial to the integrity of racing.

Andrew Howell, for the BHA, said he had been booked to ride No Diggity for trainer Nick Littmoden in the 8pm race at Kempton on 16 November.

But he called in sick an hour after a sign went up at the track warning of jockey testing.

Marsh said a friend gave him cocaine at a poker night two days earlier, and he had panicked.

He missed another scheduled test when complaining of Covid-19 symptoms although his virus test was negative.

Marsh said he had devoted himself to racing, but became depressed in the second half of 2020.

With the support of his boss Richard Hughes and the Professional Jockeys’ Association, he has received counselling and support.

“On 16 November I made a mistake that broke me for a very long time. It has only been over the past few months that this help has changed me for the better,” he said.

“I want to take this moment to apologise to the BHA for breaking the rules and regulations of racing. I can assure you that this will never happen again.”

The panel was told he had since met with the BHA to discuss the pressures jockeys are under.

Withdrawing his licence for six months – backdated to 20 November – O’Mahony said Marsh had undermined the anti-doping rules which are vital to racing.

Jockeys’ drug tests by the BHA

  • 2014: Urine tests 533/Positives 0
  • 2015: Tests 295/Positives 3
  • 2016: Tests 444/Positives 2
  • 2017: Tests 431/Positives 2
  • 2018: Tests 521/Positives 1
  • 2019: Tests 398/Positives 6
  • 2020: Urine 547/Positives 5

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