Halford defends racing board’s current drug testing procedures

Chairman of trainers’s association says there’s ‘no evidence’ to suggest doping taking place

One of the most prominent trainers in the country has backed drug testing procedures carried out by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.

Michael Halford is chairman of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IHRB) but stressed he was speaking on a personal capacity when he said there is "no evidence" to suggest doping is taking place.

He was speaking on Monday after comments by the ex-trainer Stephen Mahon in a Sunday newspaper.

Mahon, who is serving a 3½ year licence suspension for breaches of animal welfare rules, told the Sunday Independent how in 2020 he had supplied the IHRB's head of anti-doping, Dr Lynn Hillyer, with details of an unnamed trainer using injectable testosterone in horses.

The report also indicated Mahon is the source of information that prompted Jim Bolger’s declarations about drugs being Irish racing’s No. 1 problem.

Bolger has predicted a Lance Armstrong figure will emerge in the sport and that he has no faith in the IHRB's drug testing. Those explosive comments from such a high-profile figure have dominated headlines over the last year.

The former New South Wales chief veterinary officer Dr Craig Suann is currently conducting a remote audit of the IHRB's drug testing systems. His report is expected in the summer.

That audit was one of a number of recommendations by a joint-Oireachtas Agriculture Committee which held a number of hearings on the back of Bolger's comments last summer.

Bolger declined to attend but Michael Halford, representing the IRTA, was heavily critical of his colleague and said Irish racing’s reputation was being maligned. He also told the committee that any whistleblower had “only blown the whistle – they haven’t stood up”.

As racing continued to digest Mahon’s comments on Monday, Halford underlined his faith in the IHRB’s drug testing.

“Speaking personally, we’ve been down this road already. There is no evidence to back up what is being said,” he said.

"The Oireachtas tribunal was on. The IHRB are acting on their suggested things. I personally believe they're doing a good job and there is nothing to suggest otherwise," added the Group One- winning trainer.

Other former colleagues of Mahon declined to comment publicly on the matter but privately expressed scepticism about his claims.

The report also suggested a link between Mahon’s making his concerns about doping known to the IHRB and a subsequent inspection of his Co Galway training yard in April of last year.

Four-year suspension

Following that inspection, Mahon received a four-year suspension – the longest ever handed out to a trainer in Ireland – for breaches of animal welfare rules.

That suspension was subsequently reduced by six months on appeal.

Mahon is still allowed work in racing but is prevented from holding a trainer’s licence again until October 2024.

He previously lost his training licence for four months in 2008 when found to have brought racing into disrepute on the back of a civil court case the previous year.

In other news, the triple-champion jockey Oisín Murphy is set to face a British Horseracing Authority independent disciplinary panel on Tuesday for five alleged rule breaches.

The panel will consider whether the Irishman, who voluntarily relinquished his licence in December, misled the BHA about a travel destination last year in order to circumvent Covid-19 regulations and that he failed to comply with restrictions.

Other charges relate to two separate incidents in May and October of last year when Murphy failed alcohol breath tests.

The hearing will also decide if the 26-year-old rider from Killarney brought racing into disrepute by breaking the rule relating to “acting in a manner which is prejudicial to the proper integrity, conduct and good reputation of the sport”.

The hearing has been delayed after Murphy was allowed stand down for three months to receive medical support, reportedly in relation to problems with alcohol.