Animal drugs case against trainer on hold until after Cheltenham
Cheltenham-bound racehorse trainer Philip Fenton has had his court case on charges of possession of banned animal drugs adjourned until after the famous English festival.
Eight charges were lodged against the 49-year-old trainer, whose Cheltenham-bound horses include Last Instalment and Dunguib.
The charges came after a visit from Department of Agriculture officials to the trainer's yard at Garryduff, South Lodge, Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, more than two years ago on January 18, 2012.
Among the banned animal substances allegedly found on Mr Fenton's yard is Nitrotain, which is designed to improve horses' muscle mass, strength and stamina.
The anabolic steroid has been at the centre of high-profile cases that have rocked the racing industry in the UK.
Two of the eight alleged offences relate to the possession of Nitrotain and Ilium Stanabolic at Garryduff on January 18, 2012, which is contrary to the European Communities (Control of Animal Remedies and Their Residues) regulations, 2009.
A further three offences relate to possession of designated prescription-only medicines that were held without prescription relating to the animals in his control on the same date, including Engemycin 10pc and Neomycin Penicillin.
The other three charges state that he possessed Nitrotain, Ilium Stanabolic and Marbocyl 10pc, in respect of which there was no animal remedies authorisation in force.
Lawyer Declan Molan was granted a four-week adjournment of the case until March 20 before Judge Terence Finn in Carrick-on-Suir District Court yesterday.
Mr Molan, representing Mr Fenton who was not present in court, requested that the judge adjourn the case for legal submissions to be made on the next occasion in relation to the summonses.
Judge Finn queried whether it was a "jurisdictional" issue, and Mr Molan said that it was.
John Ryan, counsel for the State, argued that he was not sure the issues "do go to the jurisdiction of the court".
"If the submissions affect this court's jurisdiction to deal with this matter, that has to be taken in advance," Judge Finn said.
Offering to make a written submission in advance, Mr Molan told the judge it would take "six weeks".
Mr Ryan told the court he was strongly opposed to the application. He said the State had 12 to 15 witnesses, including one travelling from France, and pointed out the case had already been adjourned on two separate occasions.
"It is only very recently we have heard anything about this and it's a very vague and nebulous thing to prevent the hearing of the matter," argued Mr Ryan.
The judge agreed to adjourn the matter for four weeks until March 20, and told Mr Molan to lodge the submissions at "least seven days before".
Horseracing's regulatory body, the Turf Club, has said it will be paying close attention to the developments in the case.
Any person found guilty of committing one of the offences can face a maximum fine of €5,000 or a prison term of up to six months, or both.
Mr Fenton is a well-known trainer here and in the UK after first carving out a career in National Hunt racing as a jockey.
He has notched up winners at Cheltenham's famous track in the Cotswolds as both a jockey and a trainer.
Irish hopes have been pinned on Last Instalment, owned by Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, who is likely to contest the Gold Cup.
The horse recently won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown after being absent from the track for two years.
Dunguib, now bound for the Coral Cup, has also buoyed hopes recently with a strong Grade Two Boyne Hurdle victory at Navan on Sunday.
In 1996, Mr Fenton rode his first winner at Cheltenham when he landed the National Hunt Chase with Loving Around.