Jockeys’ association: rise in positive cocaine tests reflective of society
Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board confirms it is to take tougher stance
Over the last four years there have been 13 positive tests by riders for the Class A drug cocaine
The Irish Jockeys’ Association has said the current interpretation of rules regarding riders testing positive for cocaine appears to be reasonable even with new entry-point five-year licence suspensions being imposed by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) .
The board is increasing starting-point bans to five years after apprentice jockey Damian Melia and amateur rider Conor Murphy were banned for four and five years respectively for positive cocaine tests. Murphy’s ban was the longest ever imposed on a rider for testing positive for the drug.
However, Murphy can reapply for his licence within 18 months if he complies with requests from the IHRB’s medical officer in that time. Melia can apply for his riding licence back within nine months if he does the same and engages positively with a recommended programme.
Both jockeys said they took the drug inadvertently. Melia told a Referrals Committee panel chaired by Justice Tony Hunt on Thursday that he had taken a spiked drink. Murphy said his positive test was a result of “inadvertent exposure through personal contact”.
It is understood there is a case pending against another jockey for testing positive for cocaine, bringing the total of positive tests by jockeys in 2018 to five.
Over the last four years there have been 13 positive tests by riders for the Class A drug. There have been none for alcohol.
On Friday the IHRB confirmed it would take a tougher stance on jockeys breaking the rules on prohibited substances. Its chief executive, Denis Egan, said the increase in positive tests was very worrying and the problem was getting worse.
“Any rider caught in future can expect a lengthy ban and in many cases such a ban could potentially end a rider’s career, so they need to be very careful,” Egan said.
An IHRB statement said riders could expect to serve at least a period of 18 months suspension, save in very exceptional personal circumstances, before reapplication for a licence would be permitted.
“It is not necessarily the case that such a ban will always be partly suspended but this will remain an option where the evidence is such that rehabilitation should be encouraged on the facts of the individual case.”
Andrew Coonan, secretary of the Irish Jockeys’ Association, said on Friday he felt an unambiguous five-year ban for one of his members testing positive for cocaine would be “draconian and unreasonable”.
He added that allowing suspensions to be reviewed after jockeys engage positively with the authorities had to be an important element to the penalty structure.
“If someone said a rider got a five-year ban for taking cocaine I would say that is draconian and unreasonable. If, however, a rider gets a five-year ban, and has the opportunity of addressing any issues, and engages with services, as a result of which he can significantly shorten that, then I would say that is probably a reasonable decision to take.”
Coonan is a former amateur jockey himself, and emphasised the seriousness of the drugs issue.
“Riders must be protected on the track. When I go out to compete, with all the dangers I take on, I have to be at least satisfied the guy beside me is in as much control as one ever can be of a thoroughbred at high speed.
“All riders need to know this is being taken very seriously, that if they fall foul of the rules it will be taken very seriously, but if they do, in the course of that, always have the opportunity of addressing [the problem]. A significant number of riders who’ve engaged with the programmes have come back and done very well.”
Coonan put the reason for why positive tests have risen so dramatically in recent years into a broader social context. But he also said racing had its own specific issues with drugs, sometimes in relation to jockeys maintaining low weight levels.
“We have within our own racing community a significantly high level of anxiety issues, depression and of mental health problems. Do any of these riders see that [cocaine] as a short-term benefit – perhaps they do.
“But jockeys are probably reflecting society as a whole. We know cocaine is readily available to anyone who wants to get it, at reasonably modest prices. Taking it is short term, it’s a quick fix, there’s the high and it goes out of your system quickly.
“This is being used by young people every weekend instead of alcohol and they feel it is appropriate. We have a very significant drug problem among our young population in this country. And anyone in racing would be a fool to think that doesn’t spread into racing.
“Personally, and from a rider’s point of view, it’s a very positive thing that if a rider has a prohibited substance in his system it is very likely to be picked up in this country. And if it is picked up they will receive a significant penalty
“If, in the course of that penalty, he has the opportunity to address any issues he might have, and that penalty will be reviewed, that would have to be seen as a reasonable attitude to take to what is a very serious issue.”
Fairyhouse and Punchestown take turns to race over the coming four days with the €100,000 Bet Victor Dan Moore Chase the highlights on Saturday.
Dropping back to two miles could suit the free-running Blazer in this, although disappointing runs recently by a few of Willie Mullins’s team are a concern.
The champion trainer runs two in Sunday’s Grade Two Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle and on the unseasonable quick ground Ruby Walsh’s call to opt for Harrie may be proved correct.
FAIRYHOUSE: 12.25 - Caravation; 1.00- Got Trumped; 1.35 - Brosna George; 2.10 - Blazer; 2.45 - Impact Factor; 3.20 - Getaway Kid (Nap); 3.50 - Run Wild Fred
Nap and Double - Getaway Kid and Run Wild Fred
PUNCHESTOWN: 12.40 - Young Paddymc; 1.15 - A Plus Tard; 1.45 - Market’s Field; 2.20 - Snugsborough Hall; 2.50 - Harrie; 3.20 - Vision d’Honneur (Nap); 3.50 - Drakaina.
Nap and Double- Vision d’Honneur and Snugsborough Hall