This article has been updated at 11.15 a.m. EST, October 10th, with clarification on the effects of altrenogest on male horses.
China will no longer be heading to next year’s Paris Olympics, and instead, Japan will take a team spot, following breaking news of a retroactive disqualification for China’s leading rider, multi-Olympian Alex Hua Tian, and his mount Chicko from the Millstreet Group F & G Olympic Qualifier event held in July.
The thirteen-year-old gelding Chicko tested positive in a routine drug test for the controlled medication altrenogest, better known under its UK trade name, Regumate, which is used as an oestrus suppressant for mares, which helps to regulate cyclicity throughout the phases of the reproductive season. An independent investigation conducted after the fact concluded that the horse’s ingestion of the medication was inadvertent.
Nevertheless, the positive test disqualifies Alex and the gelding from the competition, which drops China to fourth place and, as such, removes their qualification for next year’s Olympic Games. They will not have a further opportunity to qualify as a team; the two remaining team tickets will be awarded at this month’s Pan American Games, and are exclusively available to countries from North, Central, and South America.
Japan, who finished third in the qualifier on a score of 125.7, have now been awarded the team qualification instead.
Alex has responded to the news with a detailed statement, reprinted in full below:
“On the 10th of July 2023, I was notified of a positive test on my horse, Chicko, during the Groups F/G Special Olympic Team Qualifier at Millstreet for the controlled medication* (not banned substance) altrenogest, prescribed and sold in the UK as Regumate. As a passionate supporter of clean sport, with a pristine record at international level for 18 years and knowing how careful we are as a team with any risk of contamination, I was in total shock. With the support of Richard Davison, Schelstraete Equine Law, JunZeJun Law and Penny Ecroyd we put together a team of specialist vets, equine scientists and toxicologists to conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances that led to this adverse analytical finding.
The investigation has found conclusively that the trace amount of altrenogest detected, inadvertently entered Chicko through urine contaminated hay that he had accessed and consumed from the next door stable at this competition.
The following background is of particular significance:
- On evening of the 1st of June, Chicko was attended by the Chinese team vet and the treatment vet at Millstreet as he was behaving unusually with some behaviour symptomatic of mild colic. As mild colic could not be ruled out, the attending vets directed us to remove Chicko’s feed and hay until the following morning. The following morning, Chicko was back to his normal self and was passed by all the vets fit and healthy to continue with the competition. We were directed to give Chicko his hay but in regular handfuls throughout the day.
- Due to the nature of temporary stabling, the gap between panel and floor and in the absence of his own hay, Chicko gained access to hay from the mare in the stable next door. This was noted when Chicko was checked on that evening and despite trying to block the hole, was also suspected during the following day when he had run out of his own hay.
- The mare next door was being medicated with Regumate (altrenogest is permitted in mares) during this competition and routinely urinated on her remaining hay.
- It was unknown to me, my team and everyone I have been able to discuss this matter with, including vets and equine scientists, that altrenogest is not only excreted in the urine in its whole compound (not metabolites as almost all other medication), but excreted in reasonably high concentrations.
- The blood and urine sample was taken from Chicko at 15:15 on the afternoon of the 2nd of June.
As altrenogest is a controlled substance*, not banned, I have not been subject to a provisional suspension which has meant that I have been permitted to continue competing whilst this matter was still ongoing. Due to my previous clean record, the FEI have offered me their “Administrative Procedure”, which I have accepted. This includes a fine but no ban or further sanction.
However, the core principles of the FEI, clean sport and the level playing field which I not only accept but support wholeheartedly is that a horse that is found to have a controlled medication in its system during competition is a rule violation and as a result is automatically disqualified from that competition, regardless of how that substance entered the horse. The disqualification of my result means that our team result at Millstreet drops from 2nd to 4th, in turn resulting in China losing our team qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
I am in total disbelief.
Despite the findings of the investigation, as a rider, I take full responsibility for the consequences. This matter has far reaching impact on my teammates, supporters of the sport and the National Chinese Equestrian Eventing Team. I sincerely apologise to the country, the Chinese Equestrian Association, my teammates Bao Yingfeng, Sun Huadong, Liang Ruiji, our horse owners, partners, our equestrian community and supporters. I intend to continue flying the flag for Chinese equestrianism on the international stage, uphold the principles of clean sport and the Olympic movement whilst taking every possible measure to ensure that issues related to doping and controlled substances for both humans & horses do not occur.”
Altrenogest, or Regumate, is a synthetic progesterone, which effectively works to inhibit oestrogen receptors, with varying degrees of success in its intended use in mares, for whom it can delay the ‘heat’ cycle. Its use in stallions and geldings is unclear; though there is some amount of oestrogen that’s produced alongside testosterone in stallions, there hasn’t been any significant research on its effect on male horses, and anecdotal evidence is inconclusive.
In 2011, the FEI categorised altrenogest as a controlled, but not banned, substance, explaining that “Altrenogest and MPA have the possibility to be misused as a calmative, especially if used on stallions and geldings, affecting performance and therefore contrary to FEI rules on clean sport.”
The Administrative Procedure system is explained as follows by the FEI:
“If a horse’s sample is positive for a Controlled Medication Substance that was not taken at the Olympic Games or FEI World Equestrian Games™, and it is the first violation for both the Person Responsible and the horse, the Person Responsible will be offered the opportunity to take advantage of the Administrative Procedure (sometimes referred to as “Fast Track”). This means that they may accept to pay a fine of CHF 1,500 and costs of CHF 1,000 (the costs may be increased to CHF 2,000 if a B Sample analysis is requested) and, at the same time, waive their right to a Final Hearing before the FEI Tribunal. Both the Person Responsible and the horse will be disqualified from the entire Event at which the sample was taken, which includes forfeiting any prize money or medals, but no ineligibility period (i.e. suspension) is imposed. The Administrative Procedure is offered as a benefit for first-time minor offences. The Person Responsible has no obligation to accept it and may always insist that his case be heard by the FEI Tribunal. If the Person Responsible does not choose the Administrative Procedure, the matter will be referred to the FEI Tribunal, which will apply the sanctions provided for in the EADCMR (this means that the Person Responsible may be suspended and/or fined).”