Turf Club confident of ‘authorised’ status
Major shake-up of drug-testing regime to include more rigorous policing powers
Central to the new dispensation will be Turf Club vets getting the same search-and-seize powers as some State agencies. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Officials at Irish racing’s integrity body, the Turf Club, are confident of securing the vital authorised officer status for their veterinary officials which is set to underpin the radical shake-up of its drug-testing procedures scheduled to come into place at the start of next year.
At present Turf Club personnel don’t possess powers of search and seizure, unlike officials from the Department of Agriculture. But racing’s top administrators believe that can be changed under existing legislation. Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan said yesterday that legislation will be amended, if required, to give racing’s police service greater powers.
It is part of a dramatic tightening up of the drug-testing system within Irish racing which is taking place on the back of controversy regarding use of anabolic steroids on both sides of the Irish Sea in the last year.
Yesterday the Turf Club outlined aims to intensify current testing procedures for horses “in training” but crucially it also plans to subject horses “out of training” to a “rigorous new testing programme”.
At present horses in unlicensed stables cannot be drug tested. Unlike horses in training, those out of training are not subject to Turf Club rules. Such horses are not bound by the sport’s medication policy. The Turf Club believes giving its vets authorised officer status, which would allow them search premises and seize materials, will change that and make it possible to test at any time.
The current anomaly has come into focus on the back of recent high-profile cases involving unlicensed medications. Two trainers, Philip Fenton and Pat Hughes, face charges by the department on possession of unlicensed medications, including anabolic steroids.
Last October, a retired veterinary inspector, John Hughes, pleaded guilty to possession of banned animal substances, including an anabolic steroid. The case was subsequently dismissed “on its merits” after a donation was made to charity.
The Turf Club has been heavily criticised for playing a less than proactive role in cases which have been taken by the department, sometimes backed up by customs officials and the gardaí. There has also been criticism of Horse Racing Ireland, the body in charge of racing’s finances, for a series of budget cuts to the integrity services in recent years.
However the Turf Club outlined ambitious plans yesterday which also include formal information sharing arrangements with the authorities, new powers to search premises, and how anyone holding a licence must disclose information in relation to any investigation. It also plans talks with all sectors of the horse industry for extending
testing of all horses as soon as possible after birth. A January 1st, 2016, start date has been set for this to happen.
HRI has given its backing to the new plan although figures for what it will cost are not yet available. Egan also outlined plans for the Turf Club to take on extra staff if necessary to implement the changes, but added: “It may be possible to handle this within our present capacity. But if it isn’t, HRI has told us it will give us what is required in terms of resources. We certainly would be very disappointed if we don’t get the funding we are looking for.”
Central to it all will be Turf Club vets getting the same search-and-seize powers as some State agencies.
“What allegedly happened with the John Hughes case was that customs told the department about a consignment and the department went in and got them. In future we would hope such a move would be flagged to us as well,” said Egan who said a greater sharing of information in future can benefit everyone. He is also hopeful of co-operation from all sectors within the bloodstock industry.
Yesterday’s announcement also stated that the Turf Club will work with scientific experts concerning hair-testing when appropriate. The new drugs regime is scheduled to be in place on January 1st, 2015.