Report calls for lifetime bans for doped horses

Anti-Doping Task Force report expected to be released by Horse Racing Ireland on Monday

The long-awaited report from racing's Anti-Doping Task Force, set up in the aftermath of the steroids controversy that saw trainer Philip Fenton disqualified in 2014, will recommend lifetime bans for horses illicitly administered substances which are prohibited at all times.

The report also suggests a single national drug control laboratory for equine activities in Ireland should be considered.

The Task Force of 16 people, chaired by the current Turf Club senior steward, Meta Osborne, and which represents all sectors of the thoroughbred industry, including breeders, trainers, owners and sales companies, had been expected to report last summer. But delays have meant it is only expected to be approved for release by the board of Horse Racing Ireland this Monday.

It was jointly set up as an “absolute priority” in December of 2014 by HRI and the Turf Club to ensure drug testing within the €1 billion racing and breeding sectors in Ireland is up the highest international standards.


Earlier in 2014, trainer Philip Fenton was disqualified by the Turf Club for three years over possession of banned animal substances, including an anabolic steroid. A former Department of Agriculture veterinary inspector, John Hughes, was also 'warned-off' for five years by the regulatory body which had accredited him as a racing establishment employee card holder.

Increased resources

The Irish Times

understands the report will argue for significantly increased resources directed towards laboratory testing for prohibited substances after the Task Force took into consideration recommendations in a report on equine drug testing facilities in Ireland supplied by Dr Terence Wan, Chief Analyst with the Racing Laboratory of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

That report was delivered in the middle of last year but hasn’t been published.

The Task Force stresses the importance of the Irish racing and breeding industries having access to an equine forensic laboratory, that it should be based in Ireland, and that it should operate under either a permanent relationship with, or a long-term support from, the Irish racing authorities.

It also states that for operational efficiency, a minimum of 8,000 blood and urine samples should be analysed each year. Currently 3,200 samples are analysed.

In the long term, the report will argue for a “single national drug control laboratory for all equine activities,” but that in the medium term the aim should be an Irish laboratory classified as one of the proposed International Federation of Horseracing Authorities Reference Labs due to be set up worldwide in the coming years.

Testing for the Turf Club is currently carried out by BHP Laboratories in Limerick. In late 2014, tensions between the Turf Club and HRI over proposed funding for improvements to the BHP Lab resulted in an unprecedented request for independent arbitration by the regulatory body.

The Task Force will also recommend monitoring of how other racing jurisdictions develop an Equine Biological Passport with a view to ultimately applying it in Ireland, and that hair-sample testing should by introduced by the Turf Club as soon as it is scientifically and technically feasible.

It will also recommend lifetime bans for horses illicitly administered any substance which is prohibited at all times and there should be no automatic therapeutic use exemption for anabolic steroids.

It suggests a lesser exclusion period of at least 14 months could be considered through an appeal process in rare occurrences when an animal may need an anabolic steroid for provable therapeutic reasons.

In the contentious area of out-of-competition testing, the report will suggest a protocol should be drawn up in conjunction with the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association on how testing on stud farms is carried out.

It will also say a standard declaration should be developed for foal registration, sales entry and any time a horse changes ownership, stating the horse has not received anabolic steroids. It will recommend sales companies should make it a requirement that any horse entered for sale is liable for testing under a Turf Club out-of-competition programme and that post-sale testing would continue to be available.

The Task Force membership also included the HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh, the Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan as well as well known trainers, John Oxx and Michael Halford. The report is expected to be published next week.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column