UK watchdog tests Irish trainer Philip Fenton's horses after drug claims
OFFICIALS from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) are to visit the yard of racehorse trainer Philip Fenton to test potential Cheltenham-bound horses amid allegations over banned animal drugs.
The BHA, which governs the multi-billion-euro industry, confirmed it would be travelling to the Co Tipperary yard of Mr Fenton to interview the trainer.
It will also be collecting test samples of blood and hair from the horses entered for races in next month's four-day Cheltenham Festival.
All samples will then be fast-tracked for analysis at the HFL Sport Science laboratory in Newmarket, with results available next week.
The BHA confirmed the test results would form part of the "decision-making process" on how to ensure public confidence in races his team would contest at Cheltenham.
It is understood negative samples would not automatically mean they would be allowed run at the festival if other issues were to arise on the visit.
Mr Fenton, who has the Gold Cup hope Last Instalment, owned by businessman Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, in training, said they were welcome. "I'm very pleased, and I shall assist them in every way. The sooner the better."
The BHA said the decision was made after consultation with the Irish Turf Club and followed the eight charges, including possession of banned animal drugs, brought against the 49-year-old trainer before the District Court.
The charges followed a visit to Mr Fenton's yard at Garryduff, South Lodge, Carrick-on-Suir, by Department of Agriculture officials more than two years ago. Among the banned animal substances allegedly found on Mr Fenton's yard was the anabolic steroid Nitrotain, which is designed to improve horses' muscle mass, strength and stamina.
The case was adjourned until March 20 next.
Eddie O'Leary, racing manager for Gigginstown, said the BHA was more welcome than ever to pay a visit to the yard where they have their Cheltenham hopeful in training.
"We wrote to the BHA today to ask them to come and test Philip's horses, so it is what we wanted," said Mr O'Leary. "We have absolutely nothing to hide and hopefully this will help clear a few things up."
Mr Fenton's team for Cheltenham also includes leading Coral Cup contender Dunguib.
However, one of Mr Fenton's owners, Barry Connell, confirmed his star two-time Grade One winner The Tullow Tank would be scratched from the festival and would not run until the case had been resolved.
The Irish Turf Club's Denis Egan said it would be accompanying the BHA on its visit to Mr Fenton's premises. Under racing rules, the BHA can test horses entered in UK races regardless of their location.
"Part of the Irish Turf Club's testing regime is that all winners are tested – during that period Fenton had many winners all tested and all negative," said Mr Egan, with Last Instalment testing negative for any substances following his Hennessy Gold Cup victory at Leopardstown on February 9.
Paul Bittar, BHA chief executive, said the body wanted to take steps to "uphold public confidence in the relevant races at the Cheltenham festival, and the sport in general".
"The testing of the Fenton-trained horses will form a part of the decision-making process as to how best to achieve this objective," said Mr Bittar.