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  • Questions must be asked about whether Irish racing takes doping seriously

    David Walsh

    Sunday December 20 2020, 12.01am GMT, The Sunday Times

    At about 9am on February 9, 2015, four men met in the cafe at the Applegreen Services near Paulstown in Co Kilkenny. It was a cold, grey morning. Veterinary inspector Louis Reardon from the special investigations unit of the department of agriculture was there. So too his colleague Brendan Daly. The other two were Chris Gordon and Declan Buckley from the Irish Turf Club’s security team.

    That morning they would carry out an unannounced inspection at Willie Mullins’s training stables at Closutton, in Co Carlow. Five weeks before the Cheltenham Festival, the visit had been authorised by the Turf Club but it was the presence of Reardon and Daly that added legal clout to what ensued.

    Mullins was then, and remains, the pre-eminent trainer of National Hunt horses. In truth, the inspectors didn’t expect to find anything at Closutton. That wasn’t to say they thought Irish racing was clean. They knew better. Three years previously the vet John Hughes was found with tubes of Nitrotain, an anabolic steroid, and many other unauthorised animal remedies. That case would rumble on for two years before Hughes was banned for life from racing.

    Soon after Hughes came the case of the Carrick-on-Suir-based trainer Philip Fenton, who was also caught with Nitrotain and banned for three years. Reardon had led the investigation into Hughes, his colleagues Noel Kelly and Daly found the evidence of wrongdoing at Fenton’s yard.

    That morning at Mullins’s yard Reardon came across medications that had not been properly labelled. From what he could tell, these were supplied by Tim Brennan, the vet who worked with Mullins. Brennan was at the yard and Reardon asked to search his jeep. Inside the boot, the inspector found a number of drugs and medications for which the vet did not have a licence.

    Hemo 15, Catosal and P-Block were of particular interest to Reardon. The first two contain cobalt, a banned substance that can boost the production of red cells. P-Block is a painkiller that is difficult to detect and dangerous when given to racehorses.

    Although Hemo 15 wasn’t licensed for use in Ireland, Reardon knew of a dealer who was flogging it to trainers. He wondered if Brennan had purchased it from this fellow. Having found the unauthorised remedies in the car, Reardon took the vet to one side and cautioned him: “You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so but anything you do say will be taken down in writing and may be used in evidence. Do you understand the caution?”

    Almost three years would pass before Brennan’s case was heard at Kilkenny district court. He pleaded guilty to three counts of having unauthorised remedies and to a fourth of failing to keep proper records. At the hearing John Halley, veterinary surgeon for the world-renowned Coolmore Stud and the iconic training centre at Ballydoyle, spoke in defence of Brennan.

    The judge considered Brennan’s offences to be “minor” and gave him the probation act. Departmental officials were satisfied that there was “no evidence whatsoever of Mullins being implicated” and concluded the trainer had “no knowledge” of any offence that might be proved against Brennan, who continued to work as a vet. Everything would have been fine if the Veterinary Council of Ireland hadn’t initiated a fit-to-practise case against the vet.

    At the last great gathering of racing people in the British Isles, the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, 17 of the 28 winners were Irish-trained. Mullins won the leading trainer award for the seventh time. Mullins or fellow Irish trainer Gordon Elliott have been leading trainer at the Festival on nine occasions over the past ten years.

    It is not only at Cheltenham that the Irish dominate. In 2019, the first three horses to cross the line in the Grand National were Irish trained, the year before at Aintree the first four finishers were from Ireland. With Aidan O’Brien’s brilliance on the Flat, it is no different in the other branch of the sport.

    Horse Racing Ireland insists the sport in Ireland has “a zero tolerance policy in relation to the use of prohibited substances”. It is a claim not entirely supported by the numbers.
    A number of drugs were found in Brennan’s car

    Irish and UK-trained horses operate under the same set of anti-doping regulations and samples from both jurisdictions are analysed at the same LGC Laboratory at Fordham, near Newmarket. It is the results that have been different.

    Based on the numbers released by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB), an Irish-trained horse was 4.7 times more likely to test positive for a banned substance in 2018 than his UK counterpart. If the comparison was restricted to National Hunt racing in that year, an Irish-trained horse was 8.9 times more likely to test positive than a British rival.

    The numbers weren’t as damning in 2019 when the Irish-trained horse was only 2.2 times more likely to test positive. In Ireland it is the practice to test the winner of each race, while the UK authorities prefer to target test one horse from each race. In principle, this should lead to more positive tests in the UK.

    Behind the numbers are the raids and the stories that follow. At one time in Ireland, Daly, Kelly, Gerry Dooley, Gerry Meade, Brian Flaherty, Denis Deeny, John McConville and Reardon worked under Pat Brangen in the special investigations unit at the department of agriculture. Often, their investigations ended up in trainer’s’ yards. What they discovered was a deep-rooted culture of omerta. Of all those caught with “unauthorised remedies”, none was prepared to say from where they came or for what purpose they were used. Suppliers of banned products to racehorse trainers talked about “client confidentiality”. After stanozolol, an anabolic steroid, was found at the trainer Pat Hughes’s yard, they asked him how it came to be there. He claimed he’d given a lift to a veterinary friend to Fairyhouse races and this man had picked up a parcel while there.

    On their return, the vet said he’d leave the package with Hughes and collect it another day when he was going to the Goresbridge sales. He never returned, or least he died before getting round to picking up the parcel. And that, Hughes told the investigators, was how the stanozolol happened to be in his place.

    It was Hughes’s brother, John, who had been caught importing the anabolic steroid nitrotain from Australia. Reardon did a bit of digging and discovered from his Australian supplier Nature Vet that they’d sent him 23 consignments before the department of agriculture intercepted the 24th. In all, he’d imported a total of 225kg of nitrotain.

    Hughes never gave up the names of the trainers he was supplying. No one ever discovered the horses treated by that powerful steroid.

    In recent years many of the department of agriculture inspectors retired. Within the special investigations unit the feeling was that the bosses considered too much time was being spent on investigations that weren’t “of strategic importance”. Some prosecutions were seen as more trouble than they were worth.

    After the Hughes and Fenton scandals the Irish racing authorities came together to agree a new memorandum of understanding (MoU). For four years the talking went on. The MoU has been agreed but is not yet fully operational. The IHRB’s investigators now have greater powers, though they have yet to be authorised. All the while, Irish-trained horses enjoy spectacular success in the UK and beyond.

    On Monday, the High Court judge Mary Irvine confirmed the Veterinary Council of Ireland’s two-month suspension of Brennan arising from the 2015 inspection. Irvine felt the sanction was lenient. The suspension comes into effect today, which means that Brennan will be available to recommence his veterinary duties three weeks before the 2021 Festival.

    At the department of agriculture, the special investigations unit has been closed down and the days of gathering intelligence and going after the wrongdoers is over. Reardon remains but he’s been pushed sideways. Plenty of people in Irish racing will be pleased to hear that.
    The owls are not what they seem

    Comment


    • Originally posted by Quevega View Post

      Peter Crouch would have beat him then !

      You clearly love him and believe his story.
      That's cool.
      And I'd like to think you're right.
      But there's no persuading me on this subject.
      I can tell

      Comment


      • Not sure if this is the right place, but Sky are doing their ?5 free bet if you place any bet over 5p on the Man United game

        Comment


        • Personally thought the Walsh article was low in substance and high in innuendo. Pity as I think he has done good work in the past. Wonder if Willie will sue for being "tarnished" by association with something that happened 5 years ago and he was completely exonerated.

          Comment


          • Morning fellow FJ readers/members!

            Last year my dad bought himself a Cheltenham members badge from the year he was born (1964) he’s been a member since about 1995. Loves his racing.

            I thought this was quite a cool idea - so I did the same and bought myself one from the year I was born (1996) but also bought him one from 1990, the year after his favourite horse (Desert Orchid) won his Gold Cup. To me, the colours on the badge look to be the colours of Desert Orchid’s silks as I know every year the badges are the colour scheme of the previous years’ GC winner.

            I’m not sure if they were doing this in 1990 - can anyone confirm?

            if anyone is interested in looking at any badges on offer I used the below site. They were great - products as described and prompt delivery.

            https://www.horseracingbadges.com

            let me know

            Comment


            • Originally posted by Topofthegame2021 View Post
              Morning fellow FJ readers/members!

              Last year my dad bought himself a Cheltenham members badge from the year he was born (1964) he’s been a member since about 1995. Loves his racing.

              I thought this was quite a cool idea - so I did the same and bought myself one from the year I was born (1996) but also bought him one from 1990, the year after his favourite horse (Desert Orchid) won his Gold Cup. To me, the colours on the badge look to be the colours of Desert Orchid’s silks as I know every year the badges are the colour scheme of the previous years’ GC winner.

              I’m not sure if they were doing this in 1990 - can anyone confirm?

              if anyone is interested in looking at any badges on offer I used the below site. They were great - products as described and prompt delivery.

              https://www.horseracingbadges.com

              let me know
              I never noticed they highlighted the ChelteNHam in some of the older badges, nice idea for some reminiscing TOTG

              Comment


              • Originally posted by Topofthegame2021 View Post
                Morning fellow FJ readers/members!

                Last year my dad bought himself a Cheltenham members badge from the year he was born (1964) he’s been a member since about 1995. Loves his racing.

                I thought this was quite a cool idea - so I did the same and bought myself one from the year I was born (1996) but also bought him one from 1990, the year after his favourite horse (Desert Orchid) won his Gold Cup. To me, the colours on the badge look to be the colours of Desert Orchid’s silks as I know every year the badges are the colour scheme of the previous years’ GC winner.

                I’m not sure if they were doing this in 1990 - can anyone confirm?

                if anyone is interested in looking at any badges on offer I used the below site. They were great - products as described and prompt delivery.

                https://www.horseracingbadges.com

                let me know
                Hey TOTG, I'm certainly no members badge expert but judging by 88, 89 and 90 they all look pretty similar with no silks colours resembling previous winners but the outer circle colours differ but again they don't seem to resemble anything in particular either. Hopefully someone on here could explain. Cool memorabilia though and a great gift idea

                Comment


                • Originally posted by parimutuel View Post

                  Hey TOTG, I'm certainly no members badge expert but judging by 88, 89 and 90 they all look pretty similar with no silks colours resembling previous winners but the outer circle colours differ but again they don't seem to resemble anything in particular either. Hopefully someone on here could explain. Cool memorabilia though and a great gift idea
                  Thanks for taking a look at it for me - I appreciate the response!

                  Comment


                  • LEOPARDSTOWN 28th December - Entries released just now.

                    2020_ONOR379 (hri-ras.ie)
                    "Journeys to Glory, breathing in his head".

                    Comment


                    • LIMERICK Monday 28th December released now.

                      2020_ONOR380 (hri-ras.ie)
                      "Journeys to Glory, breathing in his head".

                      Comment


                      • LEOPARDSTOWN Tuesday 29th December entries (last day of the Christmas Festival)

                        2020_ONOR381 (hri-ras.ie)

                        LIMERICK Tuesday 29th December entries for the last day of their Festival.

                        2020_ONOR382 (hri-ras.ie)
                        "Journeys to Glory, breathing in his head".

                        Comment


                        • Originally posted by Topofthegame2021 View Post
                          Morning fellow FJ readers/members!

                          Last year my dad bought himself a Cheltenham members badge from the year he was born (1964) he’s been a member since about 1995. Loves his racing.

                          I thought this was quite a cool idea - so I did the same and bought myself one from the year I was born (1996) but also bought him one from 1990, the year after his favourite horse (Desert Orchid) won his Gold Cup. To me, the colours on the badge look to be the colours of Desert Orchid’s silks as I know every year the badges are the colour scheme of the previous years’ GC winner.

                          I’m not sure if they were doing this in 1990 - can anyone confirm?

                          if anyone is interested in looking at any badges on offer I used the below site. They were great - products as described and prompt delivery.

                          https://www.horseracingbadges.com

                          let me know
                          https://www.ebay.co.uk/b/Cheltenham-.../bn_7023468761
                          The owls are not what they seem

                          Comment


                          • Has anyone else considered the possibility of a Cheltenham festival behind closed doors and without overseas challengers? Would it still go ahead? In Ireland they would have the Dublin racing festival in Feb.and Punchestown in the Spring. Im going to do some GB based horses only ante post in a few multis just in case.

                            Comment


                            • Originally posted by Bigfish View Post
                              Has anyone else considered the possibility of a Cheltenham festival behind closed doors and without overseas challengers? Would it still go ahead? In Ireland they would have the Dublin racing festival in Feb.and Punchestown in the Spring. Im going to do some GB based horses only ante post in a few multis just in case.
                              F****** he’ll I hope not! That would be really shit!

                              Comment


                              • Originally posted by Bigfish View Post
                                Has anyone else considered the possibility of a Cheltenham festival behind closed doors and without overseas challengers? Would it still go ahead? In Ireland they would have the Dublin racing festival in Feb.and Punchestown in the Spring. Im going to do some GB based horses only ante post in a few multis just in case.
                                If it did go ahead without the Irish I wouldn't bother watching it. All AP bets placed (English and Irish) would be voided and returned as well.

                                Comment

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