‘There’s a problem and it needs addressing’- Turf Club in crackdown on drug use
The Turf Club is to increase testing of jockeys on Irish racecourses next year as part of a crackdown on drug use, as chief executive Denis Egan acknowledged: "There's a problem there and it needs to be addressed."
According to Egan, there will be at least 300 drug tests taken in 2018, compared to 178 in 2016 and 225 so far this year.
Egan also stressed that a sizeable budget will be available to ensure a clampdown on the problem, which has tarnished the sport in recent weeks.
Ger Fox, Danny Benson and Roger Quinlan all received two-year bans last Thursday, having tested positive for cocaine at Galway in October, but had significant parts of those bans suspended on various conditions.
The referral committee recommended that penalties for a similar offence be increased to four years, but it is not only the penalties that are set to be more severe – the testing process will be too.
Egan said: "We're very concerned about health and safety issues, and the fact of the matter is some riders out there have ridden with cocaine in their system.
"The vast majority of jockeys have no problem whatsoever and no issues, but this small minority who have ridden with cocaine in their system have tarnished the image for everyone."
He added: "We have the discretion to increase testing and have a sizable budget available for drug testing in 2018. We have the capacity to divert funds into any area we see fit and right now drug testing is one area we're particularly focused on. I expect us to take at least 300 samples in 2018.
The Turf Club's drug-testing measures compare favourably with the number of tests that Sport Ireland have carried out in recent years.
Sport Ireland carried out 1,003 tests in 2016, of which 250 were in athletics, while there were 155 cyclists, 113 rugby players, 97 GAA players and 44 soccer players tested.
Of the 1,003, 822 were out-of-competition, whereas the Turf Club samples are all in-competition as the key issue is a health and safety one with animals involved.
Egan was keen to emphasise the support available for people with drug issues, and added: "We've written to the jockeys' association, qualified riders, the trainers' association, the stable staff association and RACE [Racing Academy and Centre of Education] outlining there is help available for anybody who needs it.
"These people need to get help, and they need to know that help is available."
Members can read the latest exclusive interviews, news analysis and comment available from 6pm daily on racingpost.com