Mahmood Al Zarooni, responsible for the greatest doping scandal in racing history, is pleading for his eight-year ban be reduced to the six he has served as he needs to feed his family
Mahmood Al Zarooni, responsible for the greatest doping scandal in racing history, is pleading for his eight-year ban be reduced to the six he has served as he needs to feed his family AFP / ANDREW COWIE

Banned trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni, responsible for the biggest doping scandal in British racing history, has asked the sport's governing body for clemency so he can "feed my family", he told AFP in a rare interview.

The 43-year-old received an eight-year ban in 2013 for doping 22 of his employer Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed's horses with steroids.

In a surprisingly fast process it took just a week for the test results to be revealed and his hearing and punishment.

Al Zarooni, whose 2012 St Leger winner Encke was among the horses found to be doped the following year, says a pardon from the British Horseracing Authority is a matter of urgency because, he says, all the money he earned as a trainer has gone.

"I will really be in trouble –- I don't know what I will do," he told AFP by phone from his home in Dubai.

"I have to pay the fees for the school, pay to feed my family, no money -– no life. You can't go beg in the street."

Al Zarooni, who says he has not seen Sheikh Mohammed since the day after he was banned and he apologised to him, revealed his shame has rubbed off on his family.

"My wife is very upset," he said. "My oldest son is 14 years old -– you know, some people at his school told my son that your father is a cheater.

"I cannot forget this time when my son came to me and said a friend of his had told him at school 'your dad is a cheat'.

"Even myself I cannot face people due to my big mistake."

Al Zarooni is still in shock at the length of the ban.

"Actually, I think about it every second maybe.

"I love horses, I grew up with horses. In reality I now am without horses.

"When I went to my hearing with the BHA I thought they would ban me maximum for four years.

"Eight years –- come on it's too much. It's like you have killed someone and that means you are out of the business."

'I am not an educated guy'

Al Zarooni is remorseful but says what he did was normal practice in Dubai at the time. He insists he administered the treatment for therapeutic reasons although steroids are known more for being performance-enhancing than their remedial qualities.

"I spent all my life in Dubai and we treated horses with steroids for big and small problems, it was allowed in Dubai," he said.

"It had nothing to do with performing well in a race."

Al Zarooni, who says he is delighted his "loyal assistant" Charlie Appleby has succeeded, including winning last year's Melbourne Cup for Godolphin, says he is unemployable outside racing.

"No, no, not at all –- it is difficult for me to work anywhere," he said.

"I am not an educated guy –- I do not have a degree, it is difficult for me.

"If I went to any company and asked for a job I am not sure I would be good at that job."

Al Zarooni offered in his letter to the BHA to work in the welfare, education and training of horses. But he also told AFP that if he got his licence back he would travel even to China to train.

He said he lost his "dream job" in racing, but he is hopeful the name Al Zarooni will once again feature on a race card somewhere round the world.

"I think these new people are certainly more professional -– Nick Rust (BHA chairman) and his team are doing a good job," he said.

"I have a feeling that something good will come out."

The BHA said in response to a request from AFP about Al Zarooni's call for clemency: "This matter was dealt with at the time of the hearing by the BHA's Disciplinary Panel, and we have no further comment to make in relation to any ongoing disqualifications that resulted."