Irish racing's regulator has said it stands over its investigation into the animal welfare rule breaches that led to the suspension of controversial former trainer Stephen Mahon. The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has also rejected any suggestion of singling out Mahon over his claims of doping in the sport that emerged on Sunday.
Mahon, who is currently serving a three and a half year licence suspension, said in a newspaper interview that he contacted the IHRB's head of anti-doping Dr Lynn Hillyer in 2020. He informed her of his belief that an unnamed trainer was using prohibited substances on his horses.
Mahon told the Sunday Independent of an ex-trainer working in that yard who had told him about extensive doping going on. It emerged in the article that Mahon's suspicions contributed to Jim Bolger's claims in 2020 about drugs being Irish racing's number one problem. Bolger subsequently said a Lance Armstrong figure would emerge in the sport.
It also suggested a possible link between Mahon's assertions about doping and an inspection of his own training yard in Co Galway in April of last year. Following that inspection Mahon was given a four year ban - the longest ever handed out to a trainer in Ireland - for breaches of animal welfare rules.
In September that suspension was reduced by six months on appeal.
An IHRB referrals panel chaired by Mr Justice Tony Hunt a panel heard a list of failings related to 11 horses in Mahon's care, one of which, the Tom Doran owned Geoffrey's Girl, had to be euthanised due to a "catastrophic injury" to a fetlock joint.
Mahon’s successfully appealed the finding that he had breached the rules in respect of the level of care for Geoffrey’s Girl’s injury. Nevertheless, Mahon is banned from holding a trainer’s licence until October 2024.
On Sunday an IHRB spokesman rejected any suggestion of a link between the inspection on Mahon’s yard and his contact with Hillyer over claims of doping.
“Any potential breaches of the rules are dealt with through our disciplinary procedures and the findings of those are made public,” he said. “There were hearings involving Mr Mahon and the outcomes of those hearings have been made public.”
The IHRB also rejected that it had failed to act on information it received in relation to possible doping.
“IHRB assesses and acts upon all information received and at times, where appropriate, will escalate that to the relevant authorities. All information received is acted upon on a strictly confidential basis,” a spokesman commented.
The newspaper report said Mahon contacted Bolger after getting information about the unnamed trainer and that he subsequently talked to Hillyer. Bolger’s comments about doping and his lack of faith in the IHRB’s drug testing procedures have rocked the sport and led to a parliamentary hearing last summer.
Bolger declined an invitation to appear in front of a joint-Oireachteas Agriculture Food & Marine committee. However, the chairman of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, Michael Halford, told it that Irish racing's reputation had been "maligned." Bolger is not a member of the IRTA.
That Oireachtas committee reported in November it was happy that "testing standards in Irish racing are of the highest possible international standards."
On the same day the report was issued, however, Department of Agriculture Food & Marine personnel and Gardaí removed prohibited medicines after raiding a premises near Monasterevin from which equine therapist John Warwick operated.
IHRB officials took blood and hair samples from all thoroughbreds on the premises which returned negative test results. Warwick, who has worked for years in both Ireland and Britain, has admitted to breaking rules relating to possession of medicines not licensed in Ireland but insisted there was “no dope.”
Mahon's comments mean the issue of doping continues in the spotlight just a few weeks from one of the biggest meetings of the year in Cheltenham.
Mahon began training over 25 years ago and enjoyed notable victories including the 2005 Troytown Chase with Prince Of Tara. However, he has proved a controversial figure and had previously had his licence suspended for four months in 2008 by the regulator for bringing racing into disrepute.
A 2007 Circuit Civil Court case saw Mahon ordered to pay €34,000 in damages to the owner of a mare, Pike Bridge. It was ruled the trainer had treated the horse badly and it had be euthanised to stop unnecessary suffering.
An IHRB Referrals panel suspended Mahon on the basis of “complete disregard of the procedures for the ordinary running of a licensed stable.” Despite having his licence suspended Mahon can continue to work in racing.
In November he was fined €500 by an IHRB panel for acting in an "intimidatory manner" to an IHRB veterinary assistant at Tipperary racecourse in July.
Separately, Mahon was spared jail at Gort District Court last month after paying €6,500 in compensation to a 67 year farmer over sheep kills. Judge Mary Larkin said: "If Mr Mahon hadn't paid the compensation he would definitely be going to jail." She imposed an order that he will not own any dogs in the future.