Aidan O’Brien: Claims about doping in racing ‘very damaging and unnecessary’

Ballydoyle trainer tells the Racing Post people are ‘talking out the side of their mouths’

Aidan O’Brien has described claims about doping in racing as very damaging and unnecessary. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Aidan O’Brien has described claims about doping in racing as very damaging and unnecessary. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Aidan O’Brien has backed Irish racing’s drug testing systems and described claims about doping in the sport as very damaging and unnecessary.

Comments made in the past year by O’Brien’s former mentor, Jim Bolger, that drug cheats are Irish racing’s No 1 problem, and that there will be a Lance Armstrong uncovered in the sector, led during the summer to a series of Oireachtas Agriculture Committee hearings.

A report to government from the cross-party committee is expected soon with speculation already out there that it will recommend an overhaul of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board that polices the sport.

Although invited to appear before the committee, Bolger didn’t give evidence and hasn’t named names in relation to his suspicions. He has also said he doesn’t have faith in the IHRB.

However Bolger’s stated belief that he doesn’t believe he is operating on a level playing field has invariably provoked speculation about who he is referring to.

Normally cautious in his public statements, O’Brien on Sunday was uncharacteristically vehement in his criticism of what he described as people “talking out the side of their mouths.”

He told the Racing Post: “It has all been very damaging and unnecessary. The saying goes that loose lips sink ships and we’ve all seen in life how rumours can damage people even if they are completely unfounded.

“People’s lives can be destroyed once things are put out there. That could happen in racing.

“People shouldn’t be talking out the side of their mouths. My thing would always be that nothing is ever hidden, but you can’t be listening to pub talk.”

Ireland’s perennial champion trainer, who for the last 25 years has been in charge of perhaps the world’s most powerful stables at Ballydoyle, said he is aware of theories floating around on social media. He also gave his backing to the IHRB’s anti-doping protocols.

“We had them in here last week with the Department of Agriculture and all the horses were sampled, hair and all, and that’s the way it should be. They are doing their best and like every other jurisdiction they are doing their best,” O’Brien said.

He added: “The IHRB should keep checking and testing, because there will always be people who take chances, but the authorities have a responsibility to everyone to do the right thing and not be afraid to do it.

“As I say, people talking out the side of their mouths, and the way they are entertained then by those who don’t have the facts, that all has to stop. There are a lot of people who rely on Irish racing to make a living - it shouldn’t be dragged through the mud.

“For everyone who breeds a horse, trains a horse, rides a horse, or sells a horse, it has to stop. People can’t be tearing apart the sport with no facts. At the end of the day reputation in every part of life is vital - it’s all any of us have.”

The relationship between O’Brien and Bolger, which had been close, now appears to be broken.

O’Brien was 18 when he gained one of his first jobs in racing with Bolger. He worked for three years at Bolger’s Co Carlow base before taking over his wife Annemarie’s training licence in 1993.

Since then he has rewritten much of racing’s record book, including eight victories in the Epsom Derby, as Coolmore Stud’s primary trainer.

Bolger’s former stable jockey Christy Roche once commented that O’Brien was the only employee Bolger was ever sorry to see leave his noted academy whose former luminaries also include AP McCoy.

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