Racing regulator has ground to make up in credibility stakes

POSTED ON  |  05-10-2018

Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board
New drugs regime must convince public that Irish racing is serious about catching cheats. If 2019 does prove to be the birth of a brave new anti-doping dawn for Irish racing then 2018’s labour pangs still won’t be easily forgotten.

So far this year there have been 21 positive tests for prohibited substances. They include 13 ‘winners’ disqualified for failed drug tests. There were five positive results in each of the three previous years. More cases are pending. This dramatic spike has provoked confusion and acrimony in a sport already fighting a battle for credibility in terms of doping.

In 2014 the leading trainer Philip Fenton was disqualified after being found guilty of possessing banned animal medicines. They included anabolic steroids. In the same year another high profile trainer, Pat Hughes, was also found guilty of possessing unauthorised animal medicines, including an anabolic steroid.

Hughes’s brother, John Hughes, a former Department of Agriculture veterinary inspector, was ‘warned off’ for five years in 2014 after pleading guilty to possession of banned animal substances. They included six kgs of the anabolic steroid Nitrotain which was described as being of “commercial” quantity. It was a seismic shock, both to Irish racing’s reputation and any smug assumptions about doping being a problem for other jurisdictions. In response an anti-doping task force issued a report at the start of 2016 which recommended sweeping reforms.

Central to it was the need for traceability of thoroughbreds throughout their lives and overall agreement allowing vets from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board onto unlicensed premises such as stud farms. There ensued two and half years of wrangling and prevaricating before an ‘Industry Wide Policy on Prohibited Substances & Doping Control’ was finally approved by the board of Horse Racing Ireland in July.

It is an industry-wide framework aimed at providing anti-doping credibility in time for January 1st and the start of the 2019 foal crop. Despite there still being a glaring issue in terms of prior notice it has been described in ‘landmark’ terms - a sort of Drugs D-Day.

Formidable job
But securing such credibility first requires regulatory credibility to be restored. And either as the old Turf Club, or in its new rebranded guise as the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, that’s a formidable job of restoration. In recent years racing’s regulator has endured repeated blows to its reputation when it comes to doping.

The current spate of positive drug tests are embarrassing for a sport always open to caricature about bandy-legged, syringe-toting chancers. It was caught horribly unaware when Department of Agriculture officials lifted the lid on steroids and left to look sidelined by the fallout which made previous presumptions about no positives meaning no problems seem desperately hollow.

© 2015 IGSRV All rights reserved.