No steroids found in 2,500 samples this year – chief vet of Horseracing Regulatory Board

Dr Lynn Bolger tells Oireachtas Committee doping allegations treated in confidence

The horse racing regulator's chief veterinary officer has denied that people such as trainer Jim Bolger who make claims of doping are a "thorn in our side".

Resolutely defending their anti-doping programme, which she heads up, Dr Lynn Hillyer said they were frustrated by a series of "incorrect" media reports on the subject.

However at a meeting of the Oireachtas Agricultural Committee on Thursday, it was put to industry officials that they were only now beginning to ramp up efforts to combat cheating.

Naming Mr Bolger, who recently claimed doping was the number-one problem in the sport, Senator Ronan Mullen accused the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) of only recently getting to grips with the kind of concerns the trainer outlined. Mr Bolger had declined to appear before the committee.


“If I am to ask you about out of competition testing, only now is that happening. CCTV at racetracks: not yet. A detailed equine anti-doping report to be presented twice yearly: published for the first time last week,” Mr Mullen said.

“I mean it seems to me like you’re [only] getting serious now. And it seems to me that you might owe a debt to the very prominent people of high reputation who have been expressing concern about what they say is going on in the industry.”

The sector is fighting mounting criticism and claims of doping which IHRB chief executive Denis Egan said had left him "frustrated and disappointed".

In an impassioned defence of the organisation, Dr Hillyer said their issue was with reporting and headlines, not with people raising concerns.

“We have been quoted as not analysing every sample; that is simply untrue. We have been said to have a rubbish lab; that is simply untrue,” she said.

“We’ve got more to do. And the more we can rely on people in the industry… to come forward and tell us without fear, knowing that their information will be treated in confidence, that is the most important thing of all to me.”


Both the IHRB and Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) set out their position before Thursday's committee proceedings, which were cut short due to Covid-19 time constraints, leaving many questions unasked.

The IHRB said it had contracted the “globally recognised” LGC Laboratories in the UK to carry out sample testing. In the first half of this year IHRB inspectors visited 33 premises, testing 18, of which seven were unlicensed. It denied a disproportionate targeting of certain yards, saying it employed a traffic-light selection system based on risk.

So far this year almost 2,500 samples have been taken but Dr Hillyer said no steroids had been detected.

“Every sample that we take is analysed… every finding is followed up, unequivocally,” she said.

The IHRB argues that, while intelligence helps with anti-doping, disciplinary action cannot be taken without evidence of a rules breach.

Despite a rigid defence of its operations, however, the officials encountered criticism from committee members, some of whom cited information they had received from unnamed third parties.

Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe said some information he had been given had left him "absolutely horrified and…by the day more concerned of what is happening within the IHRB and maybe what is not happening" relating to intelligence allegedly not being acted upon. He did not elaborate on who had given him the information or its specific content.

The Independent TD Michael Collins said the regulator should be dismantled and replaced. "It has become obvious at this stage that there are a series of issues within the IHRB that are unacceptable and should no longer be allowed continue," he said.

Asked if the lack of CCTV helped to make doping easier, Mr Egan said they expected to have cameras in stable yards at racecourses by the 2022 season, which “will of course provide an additional layer of security”.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times