Luke Comer’s appeal against three-year licence suspension to start on Wednesday

IHRB also appealing ‘undue leniency’ of penalties imposed on billionaire businessman after dozen horses tested positive for anabolic steroids

The Curragh hosts its first classics of 2024 this weekend although a different sort of epic clash is set to start at Irish racing’s HQ on Wednesday when billionaire businessman Luke Comer’s appeal against losing his trainer’s licence for three years begins.

Comer is appealing against the license suspension as well as a range of other penalties imposed by an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board referrals panel in September of last year that also saw him fined over €85,000 and ordered to pay €775,000 in legal costs to the sport’s regulator on the back of the most extensive doping controversy in the sport’s history here.

It came after an unannounced IHRB raid on Comer’s training establishment near Kilternan in Co Dublin in November 2021 when a dozen of his string tested positive for anabolic steroids. That raid occurred after Comer’s runner He Knows No Fear returned a positive test for steroids after running at Leopardstown the month before.

He Knows No Fear was one of the dozen horses that tested positive for methandienone and methlylestosterone. The breaches of the drug rules were described by the IHRB as “unprecedented”.


During a lengthy hearing last May, Comer denied wrongdoing by either himself or his staff and the referrals panel couldn’t establish how the substances got in the horses. They found there was no evidence of deliberate doping but, as the license holder, Comer was held responsible despite the Monaco-based businessman telling the panel he spends just three months of the year in Ireland.

Comer is not the only one appealing the verdict however as the IHRB has appealed against what it has called the “undue leniency” of the penalties handed out to Comer. Both cases will be heard by an appeals committee appointed by the IHRB from a wider disciplinary board. The regulator has confirmed both appeals will begin on Wednesday morning at IHRB HQ on the Curragh.

During last May’s original hearing, which lasted nine days, Comer called on veterinary and pharmacology experts and questioned the reliability of hair-testing carried out on his horses. He suggested environmental contamination, possibly from pig slurry, may have been a potential source. That was described as speculation by the referrals panel chaired by Justice Brian McGovern.

Comer’s ban had been due to begin at the start of 2024, but he has continued to enter and race his horses pending an appeal being heard. His last winner, Bright Dick, was at Dundalk last month. He has a pair of entries for Wednesday’s action at Gowran Park.

In the aftermath of September’s verdict, Comer, who claimed to have spent €1.4 million in fighting the IHRB charges up to that point, insisted: “I will use whatever resources I have to make sure that whoever does any damage to my reputation will pay. I am 1,000 per cent innocent. I have never been more right in my life.”

In other news, the Curragh’s Guineas Festival starts on Friday with the complexion of the weekend classic action set to become clearer after Tuesday’s latest acceptance stage.

Aidan O’Brien has a 13th success in his sights in Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas while he already has 10 victories under his belt in the 1,000 Guineas which will be run alongside the Tattersalls Gold Cup on Sunday.

O’Brien has nominated both River Tiber and Unquestionable as likely starters for the colt’s race while Opera Singer will lead the Ballydoyle team in the 1,000. Auguste Rodin will be the headline act in the older horses feature.

Richard Hannon Jnr is likely to try to emulate his father, a triple-Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, by running both Rosallion and Haatem who filled the frame behind Notable Speech at Newmarket earlier this month.

Taking on the big guns is Co Tyrone trainer Andy Oliver who is hoping Bright Stripes can emulate last year’s Guineas hero Paddington by using the Tetrarch Stakes as a stepping stone to classic glory. Bright Stripes belied 16-1 odds to pick up the established trial at the Curragh in impressive style.

“We were worried about ground [in the Tetrarch] and rode him a bit differently. When I watched the first race again at Leopardstown, I thought he came out a bit fresh and a bit gassy.

“I just asked Billy [Lee] to take a hold of him and he gave him a super ride. I really liked the way he picked up. He is working well since,” Oliver reported.

More immediately the Qatar Racing team will hope to recoup some of their €310,000 investment in the four-time bumper winner Familiar Dreams at Cork on Tuesday evening.

Now with Gordon Elliott, Familiar Dreams takes on another Punchestown bumper winner, Sixandahalf, in a 12-furlong maiden. They must concede significant weight to the three-year-old Bloom Vega however, and Johnny Murtagh’s filly should step up for her promising Curragh debut performance.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column