Committee to grill Keeling over Kavanagh controversy
Horse Racing Ireland chairman Joe Keeling is set to be brought before the Agriculture, Food and Marine Committee on Thursday week to discuss the background behind Brian Kavanagh's reappointment as CEO.
Keeling lobbied government in favour of reappointing Kavanagh on a third term, which is contrary to guidelines on semi-state CEOs. He since apologised to the HRI board that the process had given rise to concerns because members did not have sight of the documents submitted to government.
"It is looking like Thursday week now," Fine Gael TD and chair of the Oireachtas Committee, Pat Deering, told the Irish Independent.
"We had hoped to have it this week but the HRI chairman wasn't available earlier in the week and some of our members were not available for the second half of the week.
"We have also invited in HRI board members at the discretion of the board. It is not up to us to tell the board who to bring in but the chairman is definitely somebody that we need to talk to."
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed met the Agriculture Committee on Wednesday last week, when he said HRI "should have had a discussion at board level before ministerial consent was sought but the appointment can only be made by the board".
Meanwhile, Pat Hughes, convicted in 2014 of possessing unauthorised drugs, lost his appeal yesterday at Carlow Circuit Court, though his accumulative fine was reduced. He may now be referred on to the Turf Club.
Twice an Irish Grand National and also a Royal Ascot and Cheltenham Festival winner in his career, the disgraced former trainer had been found guilty of possessing eight separate unauthorised animal remedies, including three bottles of the anabolic steroid stanozolol.
The ex-trainer's brother, former Department of Agriculture veterinary inspector John Hughes, was warned off for five years and penalised €4,500 by the Turf Club in 2014. He had pleaded guilty to five counts of possessing banned animal substances, including the anabolic steroid, Nitrotain.
Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learned that HRI is looking into the possibility of running two races a week in Ireland that are restricted to owners with just one horse in training.
Several trainers are lobbying for the idea, which is designed to encourage syndicates back into racing and ensure a greater share of races won for new and smaller owners.
It would necessitate a change in the fixture list, which would be complicated for HRI, but one Group One-winning trainer believes that there are sure to be changes made.
"I have spoken to the top brass in HRI and they have been favourable towards my idea," he said. "You'd have 104 owners on a podium in a year that may not otherwise be there. It could be mixed between Flat and jumps, perhaps more jumps because the lesser Flat owners have the all-weather at Dundalk, but that can be debated.
"I have spoken to some of the biggest owners in racing. I have spoken to a number of influential people in Coolmore who like the idea; I said to them they would struggle to find any customers for the medium-priced horses for the breeding game unless changes were made. They agreed totally with me.
"I am hoping for a result very soon, though a lot of work must be done to make it happen. I am not sure that all trainers would be in favour but most would and I think it would be widely welcomed within racing."
There is concern in the sport about the domination of Coolmore on the Flat and Gigginstown, JP McManus and Rich Ricci over jumps, with many trainers finding it nearly impossible to attract new owners. Syndicates were hugely popular but were hit badly when the economy collapsed post-Celtic Tiger.