The anabolic steroid crisis which threatens to engulf Irish jump racing on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival appeared to deepen yesterday when it emerged that a second trainer, Pat Hughes, appeared in Carlow District Court last week.
The veteran Irish National-winning handler appeared on eight charges of possession of banned animal remedies, including the anabolic steroid Stanozol.
The case was adjourned until May.
Like Philip Fenton – the trainer of Gold Cup hope Last Instalment – who will appear at Carrick-on-Suir District Court tomorrow on eight charges which include the possession of anabolic steroids, the case is being brought by the Department of Agriculture, who paid a visit to Hughes' Bagenalstown yard on February 2, 2012.
Hughes, who in 1985 sent out Antarctic Bay to win the RSA Chase at Cheltenham and Time Machine to win the Wokingham Stakes Handicap at Royal Ascot, and more recently landed the 2006 Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse with Point Barrow, is due back in the district court on May 8 after the case was adjourned.
When contacted yesterday, Hughes said: "They have nothing to go on.
"I don't know whether they've called it off completely or not."
Denis Egan, the chief executive of the Irish Turf Club, said: "We are aware that Pat Hughes has appeared in court. It is on our radar."
Asked if the Fenton case had moved on since Monday, Egan said: "Now that we know that steroids are involved, it could be very serious if he is found guilty."
In October last year, former Department of Agriculture veterinary inspector John Hughes, brother of the trainer, pleaded guilty to five charges of being in possession of unlicensed animal substances, including anabolic steroids.
However, the case was dismissed "on its merits".
That case originated when customs at Dublin intercepted a parcel bound for Hughes from Australia in 2012.
The vet is currently the subject of an investigation by officials at the Irish Turf Club, who confirmed they had spoken to him once already and could do so again as the inquiry progresses.
They were also trying to get a copy of a list of trainers purportedly recovered in the Department of Agriculture search of his premises.
Whatever the outcome of tomorrow's court case, the ball is sure to come bouncing into the British Horseracing Authority's court with the Cheltenham Festival now less than three weeks away.
The authority is very sensitive about anything to do with anabolic steroids and, with ante-post betting such a feature of the Festival these days, punters will want to know the score on the Fenton-trained runners.
In a statement yesterday, BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey confirmed that the British racing authorities are keeping a watching brief.
"We are in communication with the Irish Turf Club in relation to Philip Fenton's court appearance," stated Mounsey.
"It is not appropriate for us to comment any further on this matter at this stage," he went on, "although we are conscious of the need for clarity as soon as possible in advance of next month's Cheltenham Festival." (© Daily Telegraph, London)