Sunday 15 December 2019

Report advocates lifetime bans for horses on steroids

Brian Kavanagh, CEO of Horse Racing Ireland (Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland)
Brian Kavanagh, CEO of Horse Racing Ireland (Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland)

Richard Forristal

Lifetime bans for horses that test positive for anabolic steroids is the headline recommendation of an Anti-Doping Task Force report that was commissioned in the wake of steroid controversies that included leading trainer Philip Fenton being banned for three years in 2014.

A year ago, the Turf Club set up a confidential hotline, pledging five-figure rewards in return for information that led to a conviction - an initiative, that its chief executive Denis Egan has since conceded, yielded little of note.

Egan had stated a zero-tolerance policy would be adopted in relation to drug cheats, and yesterday's publication, commissioned by Horse Racing Ireland in conjunction with the Turf Club, furthers that stance.


The report reiterates that serious sanctions and disqualifications will be enforced upon those found guilty of steroid use, but also suggests that "the horse is the main 'target', in an effort to ensure a level playing field and not allow horses which may have been given substances" to compete.

The 16-member task force, headed by the Turf Club's senior steward Meta Osborne, with HRI's chief executive Brian Kavanagh (above) and leading trainers John Oxx and Mick Halford also on the panel, states that human testing suggests: "It is likely that the percentage of positive tests may be significantly lower than the number of athletes who dope."

To that end, the 16-page report recommends increased out-of-competition testing, including signed declarations at the time of foaling, entry for sales and whenever a horse changes ownership, stating that the relevant horse has not been administered anabolic steroids.

A similar policy has been implemented in Britain since February 2015, although a positive test there has a maximum ban for a horse of 14 months, which is what the report recommends as a minimum sentence in the event of a successful application for a lesser exclusion based on exceptional circumstances following a therapeutic administration.

The report proposes that the Irish racing and thoroughbred breeding industries have access to a single national drug control laboratory.

It advocates an increase in testing from 3,200 blood and urine samples a year to a minimum of 8,000, and stresses that there should be no automatic therapeutic use exemption. It also indicates that the Turf Club should establish a dedicated anti-doping unit, and that samples could be stored in anticipation of the development of more elaborate testing procedures such as hair analysis.

Although details of the Turf Club's integrity budget (€7.1m in 2015, which constituted an 25pc increase) for 2016 have not yet been published, €1.845m has been pledged by HRI for the purchase of new laboratory equipment and to maintain facilities.


"The key objectives are to eliminate cheating and to ensure that horse welfare is paramount," Osborne said.

"The Turf Club will continue to work with HRI in this vital area to ensure that we have the resources and structures in place to maintain the highest levels of integrity in our sport, and thereby to safeguard the international reputation of the Irish thoroughbred industry."

Kavanagh added: "Setting up the Anti-Doping Task Force was vital to protect the reputation of our racing and breeding industry. The industry is worth over €1 billion annually to the Irish economy, and our position as a world leader must be maintained."

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