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Kavanagh hails 'groundbreaking' lifetime bans for horses who have been doped

Brian Kavanagh: 'That's the sort of figure that was predicted, so it's gone well in that respect.”
Brian Kavanagh: good day for the industryCredit: Patrick McCann (

A new anti-doping policy that will trigger lifetime bans for horses who test positive for substances such as anabolic steroids has been hailed as groundbreaking and unprecedented by Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

However, the industry-wide agreement, which was rubber-stamped at an HRI board meeting on Monday, includes the contentious provision for a one-day notice period for studs and yards that aren’t licensed by the sport’s regulatory body.

Kavanagh has suggested that the policy, which will grant Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board vets the authority to access unlicensed premises for the purpose of testing horses not in training by dint of a service level agreement (SLA) with the department of agriculture, will be in place in time for the 2019 foal crop.

“The policy was unanimously approved by the board,” he said. “It's unprecedented because it's an industry-wide approach to an issue that countries all around the world are tackling.

'A good day for the industry'

"Lifetime bans for horses is a groundbreaking development and it makes a very strong statement about the views of the Irish authorities on the issue of doping. It’s a good day for the industry here.”

As well as HRI and the IHRB, the agreement’s other signatories are Weatherbys Ireland, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners and the sales companies Goffs, Tattersalls and Goresbridge.

It has come about following painstaking efforts by the anti-doping task force, which was formed in the wake of the anabolic steroid controversies involving Philip Fenton and Pat and John Hughes.

Having been disbanded, the task force was reconvened last autumn to break an impasse over the issue of an advance notice period, with former department of agriculture chief veterinary officer Colm Gaynor taking over as chairperson after the former senior steward Meta Osborne stepped down.

Now, in the week after Fenton resumed his training career with a first runner since completing a three-year ban, the task force has gone a long way towards finally delivering the enhanced anti-doping procedures it was charged with establishing.

Compelled to supply DNA

Anabolic steroids, oxygen carriers/modifiers and substances that manipulate gene expression are the performance-enhancing drugs that will trigger a lifetime ban for horses, although there will be no IHRB sanctions for unlicensed individuals who illegally administer such substances until after they have been dealt with in a court of law.

To ensure traceability, breeders will now be compelled to supply DNA with which to register a foal with Weatherbys Ireland within 30 days of its birth. Thereafter, until its racing days are over, the foal will be eligible for testing by the IHRB regardless of its whereabouts.

Nonetheless, the issue of notice remains the most divisive element of an otherwise comprehensive document. There is a provision to liaise with department officials to make unannounced inspections on the basis of intelligence, but routine out-of-competition testing will involve 24 hours’ notice.

The IHRB’s chief executive Denis Egan has admitted that is “less than ideal”, but Kavanagh is less concerned about the matter.

Notice period 'a red herring'

“I think that’s a red herring,” he said of the notice period. "If you have got foals on your farm at home and they are to be tested, there is a practicality issue in terms of bringing the foals in or having people there."

John Hughes and Fenton were both found in possession of Nitrotain, an anabolic steroid described by vet and state prosecution witness Caroline Garvan during Fenton’s trial as “probably the most powerful anabolic steroid you could source”.

It is designed to improve stamina, muscle mass and strength, yet horses can test clean within 48 hours of its administration. That illustrates how fallible any anti-doping policy requiring a day’s notice could prove, but Kavanagh is adamant the new system will be effective.

“It's a very short period of time," he said. "What's going to happen with the horse in those 24 hours? More than anyone, the breeders have been very supportive of this programme and its success, and you need to notify someone if you are coming. It’s different if a horse is in training and in the system, clearly.

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Richard ForristalIreland editor

Published on 23 July 2018inNews

Last updated 19:12, 23 July 2018