Here is another “doppelganger” allegation reported to the FEI early in 2012 and investigated, until apparently fizzling out by the end of that year. The “paper trail” is still hiding in plain sight on the FEI database today.
A chestnut called Wyatt Earp 25, a Bavarian by Weltrang L and born on March 1, 1995, was purchased for the well-known British professional and Hickstead CDI organiser Dane Rawlins. They legitimately re-named him Wily Earl and competed him internationally during 2006 and 2007.
Rawlins part-exchanged the horse at the end of 2008, for a mare from a German dealer via a Dutch dealer. The combined FEI results archive for Wyatt Earp 25/Wily Earl includes only a handful of the dates he actually competed under Rawlins in CDIs, though a complete record can be found on independent dressage and breeding-related websites.
On January 5, 2009, when the horse was coming up for 14, he was re-listed on the FEI database as changing ownership – to a company in Italy associated with the dealer registered as owning him up to that point. There is no record of this horse competing ever again after Rawlins parted with him.
Exactly the same afternoon, a change of ownership of another chestnut was registered, involving the same dealership that Wily Earl had passed through, to a Japanese buyer. He was a Belgian Warmblood called Golden Coin 4. Unusually, his date of birth was January 1, 1998, and so he had just turned 11. There is no detailed pedigree whatsoever. Nine months later Golden Coin 4 debuted in FEI competition with his new rider Yuko Kitai, in Grand Prix, winning first time out in Tokyo (though admittedly there was only one other person to beat).
It was not long before people noticed Golden Coin’s resemblance to Wyatt Earp/Wily Earl – in particular his distinctive facial markings. Photographs obtained by the FEI’s Equine Community Integrity Unit (ECIU) are understood to include some of the many of the horse/s under investigation that are available Eurodressage.com’s impressively detailed public archive.
Unfortunately, though, the investigators from Quest, who service ECIU, struggled to find witnesses who were prepared to go on the “record.” Golden Coin 4’s data trail and the photographic evidence is fascinating, to say the least. Quest needed further corroboration.
Quest-bashing is quite a popular pastime and I have done a bit of it myself. I do have sympathy with Quest regarding the reticence of witnesses, because from my side of the fence I get this all the time too: “I can tell you about so-and-so, but you can’t use my name because of reprisals.” But my sympathy ran a wee bit drier yesterday afternoon when I once again had cause to wonder how thorough the investigation actually was.
I assumed Rawlins would have been at the top of Quest’s list of people to interview. He is so readily recognisable in the photos and is listed on the FEI database as the only person to have competed Wyatt Earp 25/Wily Earl.
I felt I knew my compatriot well enough to call him up and scold him for being so feeble as to not help ECIU; it’s not like Dane to hide at the back of the bus. But to my astonishment Dane said this was the first he had heard about an issue with the horse’s identification, never mind a full-blown investigation. He told me emphatically would have willingly helped with enquiries and gone “on the record” – but he was never asked. As no one else had shown him any pictures, I emailed some over, and asked if he recognised Golden Coin as Wily Earl. Dane pinged back: “Looks good; that’s him or his twin.” If you have been following the Marmoog scandal, you will now getting a sense of deja vu.
Even if ECIU could not gather enough evidence to conclude there was a case to answer, once again we have an example of the FEI being put on notice about gaping holes in its horse ID systems THREE years ago, and apparently doing nothing. Over this weekend, at the General Assembly, I am sure are going to hear a lot about the fantastic new sponsorship and broadcast deals the FEI has negotiated, but it would be nice if it could remember its primarily responsibility is regulation, not marketing.
The FEI database has to embrace a huge number of individuals and events. But it is a very primitive beast, with software nowhere clever enough to pick up anomalies that are immediately apparent to the human eye. Why no pedigree for Golden Coin 4? How has this horse appeared from nowhere, with no previous FEI form, in Grand Prix? Why does the FEI database list Golden Coin 4 as being issued with a passport on December 29, 2007, but record no owner for a further nine months? Look randomly around the database across other disciplines and within 20 minutes I’ll wager you’ll chance upon other horses whose provenance simply doesn’t stack up.
I have to underline that the allegations in this case have not been proved. Though, I make the general observation that, of course, passing off a horse as younger, faster or more talented than it really is goes back to the dawn of time. Old nagsmen filed down the teeth (a technique known as “bishoping” in Olde English) or simply concealed stars, blazes, socks and stockings with dye. Nowadays, all you have to do is to invent a new identity, buy a microchip from China on the internet, get it input on the FEI website and take a fairly safe punt that no-one will notice.
Does the horse world care that records are so easy to fake, the integrity of pedigrees is put at risk, that unwitting buyers are shamelessly ripped-off while assuming they can rely on FEI data, and Olympic and other championship qualifications are compromised, not to mention the biosecurity concerns. I went on about two days ago? Obviously not.
Dear old Golden Coin is still on the go. Eurodressage.com has just carried a report of the Japanese dressage championships, which referenced the horse’s unusual history. Nobody else who read this article thus far seems to have turned a hair.