Independent inquiry into anti-doping in Irish racing supports IHRB findings

Examination of practices recommends provision of more funding and resources

An independent examination of anti-doping practices in Irish racing recommended by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine last year has come out in broad support of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB).

A report into the IHRB's Equine Anti-Doping programme carried out by the Australian vet Dr Craig Suann concluded that it "does at least match international best practice in most respects and has made significant advances in recent years."

However, the report also outlines recommendations that, if adopted, “are capable of enhancing the robustness of the programme’s processes, capabilities and capacities.”

These include provision of more funding and resources devoted to anti-doping, mainly in relation to extra staff but also modification to sampling units at racecourses.

Suann says a high-priority should be the installation of CCTV in sampling units at every racecourse, along with cameras inside the individual sample collection stables and office areas associated with the process.

The former chief veterinary officer of Racing New South Wales also looked at out of competition testing and commended the appointment of some IHRB officials as authorised officers by the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine last year.

“This is a unique situation and unparalleled in most other jurisdictions,” commented Suann who was appointed at the start of the year and carried out his report virtually.

The report was one of a number of recommendations from the Oireachtas Committee that held a number of hearings last summer on the back of a controversial claims by renowned trainer Jim Bolger.

He described doping as Irish racing's number one problem and said he had no faith in the drug testing being carried out. He also predicted a Lance Armstrong figure would emerge in Irish racing.

Earlier this year it emerged that Bolger appeared to base much of his argument on information from the former trainer Stephen Mahon who has suggested a link between him whistleblowing to the IHRB about drug use at a yard and his subsequent suspension for breaches of animal welfare rules.

In November, the Oireachtas Committee issued a vote of confidence to the IHRB’s drugs programme when describing it as having the highest possible international standards.

However, the drugs issue continues to cast a pall over the industry with further details still to emerge from a raid carried out in November by gardaí and DAFM personnel at a yard near Monasterevin where equine therapist John Warwick operated from.

Tests on thoroughbreds

Animal medicines not licensed for use in Ireland were found in Warwick’s possession and seized. Tests carried out by the IHRB on thoroughbreds on the premises found no prohibited substances.

Another of the high-priority recommendations in Suann’s report is the implementation of a system to ensure full traceability of thoroughbreds through all stages of life.

“This is a matter confronting racing jurisdictions around the world, particularly from a welfare point of view. There is a broader community expectation that racing regulators should have greater oversight of the welfare of Thoroughbred horses, from birth until retirement and beyond,” he said.

“As the integrity regulator, the IHRB must be able to track the movements of all horses, especially those eligible to race, but also those at stud, so that the out-of-competition testing can be effectively implemented.

“The 2021 foal crop was the first to be issued with an e-passport and this initiative will permit greater traceability of those horses in the future,” he added.

Another high priority Suann argues is a review of out of competition strategies in relation to high-profile or high-strike rate trainers and their pre-training and other related establishments.

“This approach has been utilised in other racing jurisdictions where routine OOCT visits occur regularly to particularly target top level horses competing in Group and Graded races before and during major racing carnival periods,” he said.

Drug testing for the IHRB has been carried out since 2018 at the LGC laboratory in Newmarket and Suann noted the Oireachtas committee’s recommendation that a state of the art lab be established in Ireland.

“A full procurement process for the provision of laboratory services for IHRB is due to commence in 2022.

“This procurement process should be a rigorous one that ensures that the laboratory capabilities and the range of services that are to be provided are at least consistent with those offered by LGC,” he said.

Commenting on the report, the interim chief executive of the IHRB, Cliodhna Guy, said: "The recommendations made by Dr Suann in his audit are to be welcomed.

“In our unrelenting quest to ensure the highest standards in our sport the IHRB is guided by the main principle of our equine anti-doping strategy to take the right sample from the right horse at the right time.

“We will continue to develop and upgrade our systems and processes based on advice like this this and will always work to be a world leader in equine anti-doping.”

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