Sapphire’s Urine and Blood Tests from World Cup Clean

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McLain Ward riding Sapphire at 2008 Olympics. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
McLain Ward riding Sapphire at 2008 Olympics. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

All urine and blood tests of Sapphire taken at the Geneva World Cup Final have proved negative–in simple terms, no drugs found–in McLain Ward’s Olympic double gold medal mare. Analysis of swab samples from the horse’s legs are still being carried out.

The International Equestrian Federation advised dressage-news.com in a statement from FEI headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, Wednesday: “Analysis of all urine and blood samples taken during MCP Testing at the FEI World Cup™ Final in Geneva (13-19 April) has proved negative, but analysis on leg swab samples is still being carried out.

“No further information will be made available until that process has been completed.”

The samples were from the 15-year-old Sapphire ridden by McLain Ward to the lead in the World Cup before being disqualified on grounds that triggered international outrage a month ago.

McLain Ward told dressage-news.com when competing in the FEI Nations Cup in La Baule, France last week that he was upset that the blood and urine analysis had been completed but no results released.

The case cast a cloud over the World Cup Final in Geneva and more widespread over the administration of FEI veterinary and control procedures. The FEI called them “protocols” that could not be challenged at the time of the incident.

McLain of Brewster, New York, and Sapphire finished second in the first of three rounds of the World Cup Final, a situation similar to their 2009 campaign when they finished second behind Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum of Germany.

However, 15 minutes into the second round, FEI veterinarians scanned Sapphire’s legs. The veterinarians said they detected hypersensation in one leg, but determined that the pair could jump the course. They did so and again placed second.

As the previous round’s leader incurred penalties, McLain and Sapphire went to the top of the leaderboard with just one round to go and presenting an opportunity for the first American title at the World Cup of jumping since 1987.

After the class was over, the FEI veterinarians conducted a second thermo-imaging scan and announced that Sapphire displayed “an abnormal level of hypersensitivity” and was disqualified.

So stunned was McLain, U.S. team veterinarian Dr. Timothy Ober, Chef d’Equipe George Morris and the U.S. Equestrian Federation, that they insisted the FEI draw blood to be tested for drugs. The FEI at first did not do so, and the U.S. drew blood as backup before the FEI performed their own blood sampling 30 hours after the disqualification. The American samples were frozen pending the FEI findings.

The shock waves were felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Two days after the disqualification, The New York Times, which rarely reports on show jumping, published an extensive article including the disclosure by an FEI official that the tests on Sapphire were conducted “on the basis of confidential information received.” The FEI would not disclose the source of the information.