Breeders on ‘same page’ as regulator over doping controls

“People are pointing at the breeders but we’re playing ball with this”

The body that represents thoroughbred breeders in Ireland has said it is in broad agreement with racing's regulator about drug protocols which will allow testing on unlicensed premises such as stud farms to be introduced.

The Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association also rejected suggestions it has been stalling on the implementation of the Industry Wide Policy on Prohibited Substances & Doping Control. That long-awaited document, which outlines a framework for thoroughbreds to be tested throughout their lives, was unanimously approved by the HRI board in 2018.

It came on the back an extensive Anti-Doping Task Force report issued at the start of 2016. Key to the Task Force’s recommendations was the setting up of a system allowing IHRB personnel carry out testing on premises it doesn’t licence such as studs and pre-training yards.

During the summer the IHRB reached agreement with the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine that will give its officials licence to inspect unlicensed premises.


However, there is still no formal agreement about the protocols involved in introducing such a new traceability system, including with sales companies and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association which represents the majority of breeders in Ireland.

The urgency of organising a new anti-doping regime for Irish racing was underlined recently by top trainer Jim Bolger’s comments about drug cheating being the number one problem in the sport. Bolger, who is also one of the leading breeders in the country, said a level playing field doesn’t exist and urged the IHRB to carry out more rigorous testing.

The ITBA met with the IHRB and HRI on Monday and said there was general agreement on protocols, including a controversial 24 hour notice period for any inspections. The IHRB's chief executive Denis Egan has already described that as less than ideal.

“There was general agreement that we’re on the same page. We went down through the protocols, the 24 hour period for practical reasons, which wasn’t a problem for the IHRB. They’ve no problem with random selection (for testing) and really there were no difficulties.

“There are one or two things that have to be tightened up but overall we’re happy enough that agreement is there,” said the ITBA’s chief executive Shane O’Dwyer on Tuesday.

“People are pointing at the breeders but we’re playing ball with this. We want to get the process up and running as quickly as possible. Why it has been delayed, you may ask other questions from other areas, but certainly the breeders aren’t holding anything up,” he added.

Asked about Bolger’s comments, O’Dwyer said he believed the ITBA member wasn’t referencing farms and breeders and stressed: “I would say there is absolutely no evidence of anything in breeding yards.”

As well as looking for a notice period, the ITBA has also pushed for an emphasis on a random inspection process, expressing concerns about intelligence led testing and potential reputational damage.

“Some commentators have come up and said random testing is not the way to go. Of course it is the way to go because if you have a set number of horses selected randomly, and we’re looking at foals and yearlings here, once they’re selected there will be a lot more testing done than through any type of intelligence led testing,” O’Dwyer said.

Asked when the impact of any new drug testing regime will be felt on the ground, the ITBA boss replied: “My belief on this is we should try when the 2021 foal crop is on the ground and registered, that is the time we should be doing it, I would imagine.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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