The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has handed Co Armagh trainer Ronan McNally a record 12-year disqualification from the sport.
On Tuesday, a sweeping series of judgements that also saw Meath-based trainer David Dunne disqualified for two years – with the final 18 months suspended – was topped by what is believed to be the biggest suspension handed out in this country.
As well as the disqualification, the regulator’s Referrals panel chaired by Justice Brian McGovern ordered McNally pay €50,000 in costs in relation to the IHRB’s long-running investigation into the improvement in form of horses linked to him. He must also return more than €13,000 in prize money.
McNally, who runs a kitchen fitting business in Armagh, and whose restricted licence allows him train up to eight horses owned by himself, rose to prominence in recent years after some high-profile gambles on horses he’s linked to.
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They include Dreal Deal who won at Navan in September 2020 after being backed from 20-1 morning prices down to 6-4 favourite. The horse later won at Grade 2 level over jumps in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle.
The Jam Man, winner of the prestigious Troytown Chase in 2020, was also part of the IHRB investigation which resulted in a wide-ranging report in December. It found that McNally had caused “serious damage to the interests of horseracing in Ireland” and treated the rules of racing in a “cavalier manner.”
McNally was found to have breached an extensive list of regulations relating to “Non Trier” rules and concealing his ownership of horses in other yards.
The panel concluded McNally had achieved “a pattern of improvement in form of horses at a level previously unfamiliar to experienced and long-serving handicapping officials.”
It also decided he conspired with Dunne to conceal his ownership of a trio of race winners, Full Noise, Petrol Head and All Class.
As well as having his licence suspended, Dunne has been fined €5,000 and must forfeit prize money won by the three horses.
Other sanctions released on Tuesday related to Co Cork based point-to-point handler Ciaran Fennessy who had his licence removed for three years – with the final two years suspended – as well as being fined €5,000.
That was after it was concluded McNally conspired with Fennessy to engage in “corrupt and fraudulent practice in relation to the passing of inside information for betting purposes and/or concealing the true ability of horses in order to obtain handicap marks not reflective of their ability.”
All suspensions in the case are to begin on March 1st.
As part of the IHRB judgement, Dreal Deal has forfeited his win at Navan in September of 2020 as well as at Limerick a month later.
The Jam Man has been disqualified from a race in Limerick in September 2020 in which he finished runner up.
The IHRB said: “The committee regards the findings against Mr McNally as very serious.
“His offences strike at the integrity of the sport and the objective of having a level playing field for all who send horses out to race. They also involved a deception of the public, especially the betting public.
“The committee has taken into account the submissions made on his behalf and his past record and the effect that severe sanctions will have on him.”
McNally couldn’t be contacted on Tuesday but in December he said he was “deeply disappointed and dissatisfied” with the IHRB decision and indicated he would appeal.
Tuesday’s report also outlined how jockeys Darragh O’Keeffe and Mark Enright were found to have failed to make reports on slow starts for Dreal Deal when they rode him in June and July 2020 respectively. They were reminded of their duty to do so.
Another rider, Eoin O’Brien, was found in breach of four charges, including that he schooled the horse in public, and was given a 21-day suspension.
It is believed McNally’s ban is the longest ever handed out to a trainer in Ireland.
Stephen Mahon was suspended for four years in 2021 after breaches of animal welfare rules brought racing into disrepute. He subsequently had it reduced by six months.
Another recent high-profile suspension was the six months given to Charles Byrnes for being “seriously negligent” after his runner, Viking Hoard, was “nobbled” with a sedative at Tramore in 2018.
In 2014 Philip Fenton was suspended for three years by racing’s authorities after being found in possession of unlicensed animal remedies including anabolic steroids.
Also in 2014, the Northern Ireland based businessman and owner, Robert Martin, was “warned off” for 10 years by the regulator on the back of a betting scandal surrounding Yachvili who ran at Downpatrick in 2011.
Martin owned the horse while jockey Eddie O’Connell was suspended for four years for his role.
In 2020, David Dunne had his license suspended for four months following his appeal against the severity of a €2,000 fine imposed after his runner, Druim Samhraidh, tested positive for an anabolic steroid at Ballinrobe the year before.