Turf Club to step up war against doping
No access gained to trainers' list found in raid by Customs
TURF CLUB chief executive Denis Egan has reiterated that there is "no evidence steroids are being used" in Irish racing circles, though he also conceded that the regulatory body has not gained access to a list of licenced trainers that was found during Customs' October raid on a Carlow premises.
At a sitting of Carlow District Court in October, John Hughes, a retired Department of Agriculture veterinary inspector, pleaded guilty to five counts of possession of banned animal substances, including the anabolic steroid Nitrotain.
The case was subsequently dismissed "on its merits" after Hughes made a donation of €10,000 to Kilkenny Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and agreed to pay court costs of €3,000 as well as witness costs of €100.
During the swoop on Hughes' premises by a Customs special investigation unit and gardai in February 2012, a list of trainers' names and contact details was seized by investigators, but the Turf Club's attempts to ascertain the potentially inflammatory inventory have so far been unsuccessful.
"Obviously, we would like to get that list of names, but we haven't yet," Egan admitted yesterday.
"We are not at the stage where we can't get it. It is important, but there are procedures to be gone through to obtain information and we're in the process of going through those at the moment."
Following the raid, which came on the back of high-profile instances of anabolic steroid use that had rocked the racing scene in England, the Turf Club increased its random stable inspections. Some of the biggest jumps yards in the country were subject to wholesale testing unannounced.
"All the additional tests we did in training came back negative," Egan revealed. "We carried out 189 tests over a period of one week in October and they were all negative. Obviously, we are pleased all the samples have been negative, but it's just a picture in time.
"What I've always said is we have no evidence that steroids are being used, but when you see instances like where there were banned substances found in the Carlow case, you obviously have to be concerned."
Nitrotain, which is designed to improve horses' muscle mass, strength and stamina, was one of the substances at the centre of the Mahmood Al Zarooni find in Newmarket last year.
Hughes' haul reportedly consisted of a quantity sufficient to administer up to 1,500 doses. The drug has an unusually short withdrawal period of 48 hours, meaning that a horse will test negative for it just two days after administration.
This can make detection difficult, because while every race winner is tested in this country, the benefits of the steroid can last for much longer.
As such, the random in-training tests give the Turf Club a chance of identifying any illicit drug use. However, the regulator is currently hamstrung by its inability to test horses that are returned out-of-training in between periods of training, as it has no authority over unlicensed stables.
"We are working on putting a pro- cedure in place so that we have access to all horses at all times once they are returned in training," Egan explained.
"It is at a very preliminary stage, but we have to set out exactly how we are going to try and do it. Once the system is set up we have to know where horses are at all times and ensure we have access to them.
"Some of them may not be in licenced premises, so we need to make sure that there is a protocol and procedures in place."
The Turf Club's integrity budget, which is funded by Horse Racing Ireland, had been slashed by 23pc over five years up to 2013. In response to last year's developments, though, it has received a cash boost of €167,000 for 2014 that is to be ring-fenced for equine forensic testing.