Racing regulator happy with screening protocols despite high-profile breaches

Case involving Aidan and Donnacha O’Brien at Curragh an ‘unfortunate’ incident says IHRB

Champion trainer Aidan O’Brien pictured at the Curragh for the 2,000 Guineas in June. Photograph:  Caroline Norris/Inpho

Champion trainer Aidan O’Brien pictured at the Curragh for the 2,000 Guineas in June. Photograph: Caroline Norris/Inpho

 

Irish racing’s regulator has insisted overall compliance with health screening protocols on racecourses due to coronavirus is very good despite a number of high-profile breaches.

More details emerged on Tuesday about the circumstances in which champion trainer Aidan O’Brien and his son Donnacha have been banned from going racing for two weeks, and each fined €2,500, after breaking the rules at the Curragh on Irish 2,000 Guineas day last month.

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) said both men failed to go through the health screening process, instead entering the course through a separate gate at the Curragh. Racecourse security failed to redirect them to the proper entry point.

On Monday a referrals panel handed out penalties after what an IHRB spokesman referred to as an “unfortunate” incident and O’Brien himself has described as a “misunderstanding”.

They were less than the €5,000 fine and three-month ban imposed on trainer Emmet Mullins after he was also broke the rules at Leopardstown last month. On that occasion Mullins failed to present a correct barcode and was denied entry. However, he was later seen on the premises.

In the case of the O’Briens, they had filled out all the necessary paperwork correctly but failed to go through a health screening area which includes a temperature check.

Aidan O’Brien told the referrals panel that on approaching the gate through which he would normally enter The Curragh he was not requested by racecourse security to return to the health screening area or asked had he completed the process.

He also said that as this was his first meeting under the protocols he was not aware of any wrongdoing, adding that there was “no malice in what had happened” and expressed his regret at what had occurred.

The panel accepted there was no malice in the O’Briens’ intentions but nevertheless concluded they acted “in a manner which was prejudicial to the proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing”.

Separately on Monday Sarah Bermingham, an authorised representative of trainer Enda Bolger, was fined €150 and prohibited from entering a racecourse for a month after accessing Bellewstown last week without the necessary requirements.

Such incidents are embarrassing in the context of how racing was the first major sport to resume behind closed doors in Ireland on the back of an extensive 77-page document of Covid-19 safety protocols.

An IHRB spokesman said on Tuesday: “We are dealing with a very small percentage of the overall numbers that are attending the racing. They are very isolated cases. Overall compliance has been very good within the industry.”

He added that both Aidan and Donnacha O’Brien accepted it was their responsibility to go through the proper screening process when arriving at the Curragh.

However, the Curragh’s chief executive Pat Keogh put his hands up on Tuesday in relation to the incident. It was racecourse security rather than IHRB personnel that allowed the O’Briens access through a different gate.

“Aidan did everything right in terms of registering. Unfortunately it was his first day back racing [after lockdown] and he went through one point and he wasn’t checked for his wristband which everybody should be. It was a mistake on our part and I put my hands up,” said Keogh.

“Obviously the security guy didn’t ask Aidan. Maybe he thought he’d been through and he’d seen it already. It was a lapse. It absolutely should not have happened.

“All the security people get properly briefed. We all get wrist-banded when we go in. The protocols are very strong. We all know if there’s any breaches of protocol that could threaten racing. Unfortunately Aidan wasn’t asked.”

Security briefings will again be held at the Curragh ahead of this Saturday’s Juddmonte Irish Oaks, which will once again be a ‘domestic only’ Classic.

A dozen fillies remain in the race after Tuesday’s forfeit stage, including Donnacha O’Brien’s French Oaks winner Fancy Blue. She was made an initial 7-4 favourite by some firms to secure a Classic double for her trainer who is in his first season with a licence.

Half of the list of possibles are trained by Aidan O’Brien. They include the Epsom runner-up Ennistymon and the Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Peaceful, who was third to Fancy Blue at Chantilly last time.

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