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Turf Club investigation must shed light on doping issues

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Vautour and Ruby Walsh soar over the final fence on the way to victory at Navan yesterday. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Vautour and Ruby Walsh soar over the final fence on the way to victory at Navan yesterday. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Vautour and Ruby Walsh soar over the final fence on the way to victory at Navan yesterday. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

It would be interesting to see the transcript of Saturday's Turf Club Referrals Committee hearing with Philip Fenton.

One of Irish racing's most popular individuals prior to the emergence of the Department of Agriculture's case against him for the possession of unlicensed animal remedies that included anabolic steroids, the Carrick-on-Suir trainer's career lay in tatters following the Turf Club's decision to disqualify him for three years.

Fenton's criminal conviction had resulted in a fine and costs totalling €10,200. Given the implications of the finding and the broader damage done to the sport's reputation, that was a relatively benign sanction.

The same cannot be said of the Turf Club's penalty. Fenton's licence will be suspended from midnight on Friday. From March 1 next year, he will be disqualified entirely from any horse racing environment.

Fenton has been given three months "to run down his business in an orderly manner," the Turf Club's chief executive Denis Egan explained of the decision to delay his outright ban. While his solicitor argued for a financial sanction rather than a ban, Fenton accepted the rule breaches on the Turf Club's charge sheet, though he can appeal.

He has already conceded that he may now have to consider a life outside of racing for the first time. For those of us who have known or had dealings with Philip Fenton, that is a scarcely believable reality that would have been unfathomable a year ago.

Indeed, after The Tullow Tank's successful hurdle debut at Naas a year ago, I extolled Fenton's virtues as a trainer here, noting how he had weathered the shock withdrawal of his then leading patron's entire team of horses when he was establishing himself in his new profession back in 2008.

Later that year he bounced back into the limelight courtesy of Dunguib's sensational arrival on the scene. Then came his first lapse in medical procedures when Dunguib was disqualified from his 2009 Champion Bumper win at Punchestown after testing positive for banned substances.

contaminated

The Turf Club absolved Fenton of personal responsibility, accepting his defence that the prohibited substances were attributable to Dunguib being contaminated by his neighbouring horse's worm dose.

He was fined €3,000 and reminded that he must assume responsibility for the actions of his employees.

Soon after, Fenton found yet another future big-race player in Last Instalment, and what struck this corner a year ago was his ability to overcome adversity and emerge stronger. He had gone from being an amateur riding colossus of whom I was in awe to being a formidable small-scale trainer with a knack for sourcing serious horses.

Fenton's legacy in the saddle is untouchable, but his record as a trainer is now tarnished. An affable man who has never been less than courteous to deal with, his fall from grace is further exacerbated by the collateral damage of his actions.

His staff face an uncertain future, as does his stable jockey Brian O'Connell, who owes much of his success to Fenton's loyalty. O'Connell is now on the verge of losing his chief source of income.

Fenton knew that he risked losing his right to earn a living as a trainer when he ventured down the path that he did, but maybe if he stopped to think how his actions might affect those who were dependent on him for a living he wouldn't have pursued such a reprehensible path.

The regulator has yet to publish any findings in relation to the case, and serious questions remain unanswered. Primarily, what did the Turf Club's investigation seek to establish and ultimately find?

As is often the case, their published findings in the Dunguib case in 2009 were vague and offered nothing in the way of recording Fenton's official account of events. This is a much more serious case with far-reaching consequences.

Did the Turf Club's investigation ascertain how and why Fenton got to the point where he believed that sourcing anabolic steroids was acceptable? When exactly did he first obtain steroids?

Was doing so simply part of the prevailing culture? Nitrotain, the steroid of which a kilo, or 250 doses, was found on Fenton's premises during the DoA's raid in January 2012, is a performance-enhancer that horses can test negative for within a day or two, yet the benefits last somewhat indefinitely.

None of Fenton's horses tested positive for steroids, but what was established on the question of whether or not any of his horses were administered steroids? Did he give them to horses, and, if so, did he give them to horses in training?

The possibility that finding out the answers to questions such as this might make for uncomfortable reading or worse shouldn't matter.

Fehily and Silviniaco claim Betfair spoils

Silviniaco Conti rocketed to the head of the betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup with a second convincing triumph in Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Under a typically refined Noel Fehily steer in first-time cheek-pieces, Paul Nicholls' eight-year-old showed the improvement that was expected from his fifth to Menorah in the Charlie Hall Chase to turn the tables on Philip Hobbs' charge.

Nicholls revealed that the Dom Alco gelding had been treated for gastric ulcers after his Betfred Bowl success at Aintree in April, and he is to bid for a second win in the King George VI Chase before having a third stab at the Gold Cup.

Silviniaco Conti is now as low as 6/1 ante-post market leader (from 14/1) for the Gold Cup, with last year's Jim Culloty-trained winner Lord Windermere due to resume in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on Sunday week.

Nigel Twiston-Davies' Champion Hurdle contender The New One dismissed inferior rivals on the same card, as did Faugheen at Ascot. Ruby Walsh asked his unbeaten mount to make all, which he did convincingly over the two-and-a-half-mile trip in soft ground. In truth, though, Faugheen did little to advance his claims for a two-mile championship race that will likely be run in very different conditions.

Annie Power, which claimed the same Grade Two en route to finishing second in the World Hurdle last March, should reappear in Sunday's Hatton's Grace Hurdle.

Walsh also took the Amlin Chase in fine style on Nicholls' King George-bound grey Al Ferof. The peerless champion jockey initiated a treble in the novices' hurdle on Harry Fry's Fletchers Flyer, which landed a Kilworth point-to-point for Adrian Maguire in 2013 before winning a bumper at this year's Punchestown Festival.

Mullins, for his part, has now saddled 29 winners in November, Ballycasey's impressive comeback win the highlight of a four-timer at Gowran Park on Saturday.

Winners All Round

Richard Forristal and Wayne Bailey both pointed readers to 100/30 winner Silviniaco Conti on Saturday.

Forristal tipped six Irish winners over two days, one of which wasn't Glenquest. His Haydock selection was withdrawn before winning at Navan. Luckily, Trav Corr tipped the 11/2 shot!

Tweet of the weekend

John Kingston (@johnconork)

Sad to learn this week of the recent passing of @CheltenhamRaces Gold Cup winner Imperial Call who inspired my love of racing. #legend

- John Kingston of Clonakilty's Springmount Stud echoes the sentiments of many following the death of the late Fergie Sutherland's 1996 Cheltenham victor. The iconic 25-year-old horse, which was owned by Kingston's west Cork neighbour Lisselan Farms, had been cared for in his old age by Sutherland's long-serving right-hand man Billy O'Connell in Macroom.

Numbers Game

275,000 The enhanced value of the Irish Grand National after Boylesports committed to backing the prestigious Fairyhouse handicap for another two years. Next year's edition will now surpass the Galway Hurdle as the country's most valuable jumps race.

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