Barbara McMahon in Rome
Tuesday February 28, 2006
Two vets and a pharmacist were among 24 people arrested by police in
Naples yesterday over claims that they fed Viagra to horses running in
illegal races to make them go faster.
The arrests were part of a wider investigation into clandestine racing
and betting in southern Italy. Police said horseowners and jockeys had
also been arrested during the latest raids.
Prosecutors in Naples have been trying to stamp out illegal horse
racing, which takes place on public racecourses after hours and
attracts hundreds of gamblers. Stolen horses are often used. Some are
fed powdered Viagra or other stimulants to improve their performances.
Colonel Mario Pantano, of the paramilitary carabinieri, said all of
those rounded up yesterday were suspected of being in an organisation
that runs secret races all over the Campania region and which had
offshoots in Sicily and Emilia Romagna.
The criminal gang, not linked to the local Camorra mafia, was
described as highly professional.
"They set up grandstands and betting parlours," said Col Pantano. "A
great number of people turned out at weekends for the races, probably
knowing it was illegal." The wide-ranging investigation, which started
in 2004, has also discovered that horses have been doped with Viagra
before legal races.
Police have so far seized property worth more than £3m during the
raids. Last year, officers confiscated 80 horses and closed a
racetrack that had been built without planning permission.