In 2014/15 the young jockey Ashley Butler, just a couple of years out of his apprenticeship, won the Rockhampton all-comers riders title. He rode winners at a 26.5% strike rate that year, the best in the State.
This kid was good, real good.
But he was growing, and growing ain’t good for an elite athlete in a sport that requires its participants to weigh no more than about 56kg, the body mass of my size 10 daughter.
Ashley Butler wanted to be a jockey; it’s all he had ever wanted, other than a wife and kids and a house. He’d already met and fallen in love with the wife, so the kids were covered, but his skills at race riding were the only thing that was going to buy them the house, and the lad who’d left school at 15 to chase the saddle knew it.
So Ash started starving himself. He’d live on lettuce leaves and drink by sucking on a seedless green grape. It hurt, and Ash craved food, but kept his mind focused and his eyes on the prize, and instead of eating he’d put on six-shirts and whack a wetsuit on top and then run ten miles up and down Mt Archer in two hours, and then jump straight into the sauna instead of swilling a Gatorade when he got home.
It soon caught up with him.
A year later Butler was in hospital after his kidneys collapsed. He could have died, and it was all because of the wasting and fasting and inhuman exercise he’d been doing to meet the crazed requirements of a sporting code that placed tradition before evolution and simple common sense.
Ash Butler was off the scene for a month after he’d been hospitalised, and when he returned he started riding a bit heavier. It meant that he could only take about 2/3rd’s of the rides he used to get, which reduced his income proportionately, but his strike rate didn’t suffer, for in the next two seasons he rode winners at an average of more than 20 percent.
Then in May 2018, in the last race in Townsville, disaster struck. The horse he was riding wouldn’t come back on the bit, and got up onto the heels of the horse in front, and both horse and rider came down. Butler’s wrist was smashed into a million pieces. It kept him off scene for 7 months.
Butler returned – he had to; what else was he was going to do to pay the mortgage? – but he was heavy, and the pain was shocking, and he was getting even less rides than he was after coming back from the kidney issues., but still his strike rate stood up at about the 20 percent mark.
This bloke might be largely unheralded, but numbers don’t lie.
He’s good, really really good.
I don’t know why, but Ash didn’t ride between October last year and January just gone, but since he started again he’s ridden 7 winners from just 30 rides, at a strike rate of over 23%. Like I said, this bloke’s a gun.
On the 27th of February, Butler had two rides at Rocky.
He kicked one of them home a winner, but when he himself got home his wrist was killing him, so he took a Panadeine Forte that his GP had prescribed and told him to take when it really hurt, and then he went to bed.
Two days later brilliant but battling hoop traveled 100 km’s down the road to ride at Gladstone, and struck a random QRIC urine test. It threw positive for Morpheine and Codeine, two of the active ingredients of Panadeine Forte.
Given that Butler had only taken a single pill two nights before, had the QRIC taken a blood test he would have swabbed clear. But while the effects of a Panadeine Forte last no longer than 12 hours max, and the painkiller clears from the bloodstream within 24 hours, it stays detectable in your urine for 48 hours.
And so, under the supposed strict liability laws imposed by the Rules of Racing, Ashley Butler – a good, honest man who takes the pain every day to feed his family, and only takes a totally legal pill when it becomes unbearable – is a drug cheat.
The QRIC put Ashley Butler out for two weeks, thus denying him a fortnight’s wages, right in the middle of the Coronavirus lockdown.
All for taking a super-strength Panadol.
Life just ain’t fair, is it?
is a jockey with a real sore wrist.
He smashed it badly in a race fall in 2018, and it kept him unemployed for