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Fenton situation looks a mess

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Last Instalment, with Brian O'Connell up. Picture: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Last Instalment, with Brian O'Connell up. Picture: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Last Instalment, with Brian O'Connell up. Picture: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

OH, this is messy ... most stories will divide opinion and the Philip Fenton case is certainly no different.

The fact that the case was adjourned last Thursday in Carrick-On-Suir District Court has sat uneasily with many, including the British Horseracing Authority who have their flights booked to visit Fenton's training establishment, home to the third favourite for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Fenton is accused of being in possession of anabolic steroids and other banned substances when visited by Department of Agriculture officials more than two years ago – something the Turf Club were aware "was in the pipeline", but they claim to know little else about the case.

On the basis they know little else about the case and owing to the fact that they have not found any banned substances in horses trained by Fenton in that period, the Turf Club have no reason to act prior to the resolution of the court case, which has its next hearing on March 20 – a week after the Cheltenham Festival – but maintain they will be talking to the trainer after the case.

However, the BHA, who don't need any permission from the Turf Club to visit and carry out tests at Fenton's yard and will do so for the first time outside of their jurisdiction, are reportedly going to take blood and hair samples from Fenton's intended Festival runners – Last Instalment, Dunguib and Value At Risk.

The BHA are not stopping there and will also interview Fenton about the case that currently hangs over his head, and few will want to confidently predict what decision the BHA will arrive at just one week ahead of the Cheltenham Festival – the Olympics of horseracing.

The samples taken from Fenton's base are set to be "fast-tracked" to Newmarket so that the results can be known by next week, but it is the result of the interview that is likely to be more significant.

TESTED

Philip Fenton, at this moment in time, is an innocent man and as a trainer of racehorses that are going to Cheltenham next month, he should be allowed to do so safe in the knowledge that none of the three have tested positive for anything – and neither has The Tullow Tank, of course, who won't be going at the wish of his owner Barry Connell.

There is probably little doubt in most people's minds that this case could have been handled better by the Department Of Agriculture, the Turf Club and possibly even the courts, given that the case has been adjourned on a number of occasions. And there is probably little doubt that the Turf Club could be doing more to assure the general public that the use of banned substances in horseracing in Ireland is not a common practice.

That is what the BHA are trying to achieve across the water and have increased the budget to do so (while the budget for integrity in Ireland has decreased over the last few years), but it is rather rich that the BHA, who up until the Mahmood Al Zarooni case didn't even test every race winner in Britain, are now dusting down their passports to visit an Irish trainer who is innocent until proven guilty and also happens to train a horse that could win their blue riband race.

There really is no winner in this. If the BHA opt to ban Fenton horses from Cheltenham (which I personally think is highly unlikely), they are hardly going to get a nod of acceptance from one of the most powerful men in this country in Michael O'Leary, who also just happens to sponsor one of Cheltenham's Championship races, and they can expect a backlash.

LAUDED

If Philip Fenton trains Last Instalment to win the Gold Cup in a little more than a fortnight from now, it would be an achievement that should be lauded as one of the greatest training performances of all time, due to the horse's injury history. If a Fenton victory does come to pass, it is unfortunate that all attention will not be focused on just that.


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