Horse at centre of Cheltenham Festival doping inquiry a possible Perth runner
Anseanachai Cliste was withdrawn from Foxhunter’s Chase; test later revealed banned substances in its system
Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Anseanachai Cliste, a nine-year-old chaser at the centre of a possible doping inquiry triggered by events at the Cheltenham Festival on Gold Cup day, remains a possible runner at Perth on Thursday after being withdrawn from two engagements at the same track on Wednesday.
Stephen McConville, who trains Anseanachai Cliste in Portadown, Co Armagh, and his son Michael, who has ridden the horse regularly in point-to-point events, have been under investigation by the British Horseracing Authority since the horse was taken out of the Foxhunters’ Chase, the race after the Gold Cup, at Cheltenham on March 17th.
At the time, an official report said only that the stewards had ordered the horse be withdrawn as “they could not be satisfied the horse had been administered only normal feed and water on race day”. More recently, it has been reported that a blood-covered syringe was found in Anseanachai Cliste’s box, and that a subsequent dope test on the horse revealed that it had banned substances in its system.
Anseanachai Cliste won the Ulster National and a first prize of £13,500 (€15,375) just nine days after his withdrawal at Cheltenham, and before the result of the dope test ordered on March 17th had been confirmed. He has also run twice since that victory, at Kelso on May 28th and then at Downpatrick on June 18th, finishing unplaced on both occasions.
The gelding was a 33-1 chance for the Foxhunters’ in March prior to his sudden withdrawal, but arrived at the Festival meeting on the back of eight straight victories in point-to-point events between February 2016 and March 2017, for six of which he was ridden by Michael McConville, who is also the nine-year-old’s owner.
It is BHA policy not to comment on ongoing investigations, but if Anseanachai Cliste is declared to run on Thursday, the regulator could come under pressure to use its powers under Rule 83 of the Rules of Racing to refuse to accept the declaration. The Authority used a sub-section of the same rule to prevent Gina Mangan, an inexperienced apprentice jockey, being declared to ride Diore Lia, a rank outsider, in the Derby at Epsom in early June, although the filly was subsequently scratched on the day of the race.
The Cheltenham Festival is jump racing’s showpiece event and the unusual circumstances surrounding Anseanachai Cliste’s withdrawal from this year’s Foxhunters’ will guarantee significant interest in any resulting disciplinary case. If Anseanachai Cliste is found to have been injected with a performance-enhancing substance in his box on March 17th, there could also be questions for the regulators both in Ireland and Britain as to how and why the gelding was allowed to continue racing once the results of the test were known.
Contrary to a report in Tuesday’s Racing Post, which suggested a charge against McConville is “imminent”, it could be several weeks before the outcome of the BHA investigation becomes public.
When contacted by the Guardian on Tuesday, McConville said that he was not able to confirm whether Anseanachai Cliste will be declared to run at Perth on Thursday.
The nine-year-old had two possible engagements at Perth on Wednesday, in the featured £15,000 handicap chase and also in a three-mile handicap hurdle half an hour later, but was withdrawn from both at the overnight stage on Tuesday morning. He is also entered in the £8,000 Mackie’s Cream of the Crop Handicap Chase at Perth on Thursday afternoon.