Starting drugs ban for jockeys in Ireland to be raised to five years

Two more jockeys received bans for positive cocaine tests on Thursday

The starting point penalty for any rider who fails a drugs test in Irish racing is set to be raised to five years. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

The starting point penalty for any rider who fails a drugs test in Irish racing is set to be raised to five years. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

The starting point penalty for any rider who fails a drugs test in Irish racing is set to be raised to five years after two more jockeys received bans for positive cocaine tests on Thursday.

Both apprentice jockey Damian Melia and amateur rider Conor Murphy were suspended by a Referrals Committee panel chaired by Justice Tony Hunt.

Murphy was banned for five years for testing positive for cocaine at Cork in November. Melia tested positive for cocaine at Gowran Park in October and was handed a four-year ban.

However the Referrals Committee decided that Melia can reapply for his licence after nine months provided he complies fully with requests made by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board medical officer. Melia told the panel a “spiked drink” was to blame for his positive test.

It also decided Murphy can reapply for his riding licence in 18 months provided he meets certain conditions. The rider, who won a hunters chase at Cork on the same day he provided the positive sample, blamed “inadvertent exposure through personal contact” for his test result.

It is understood a third rider has also tested positive for cocaine but details of that are still pending. It brings to five the number of positive cocaine tests in Ireland in 2018.

These latest results also bring to 13 the number of positive cocaine results for jockeys in Ireland in the last four years. In the same period there have been no positive tests for alcohol.

After three jockeys were banned at the end of 2017, including the Irish Grand National winning rider, Ger Fox, a Referrals Committee also chaired by Justice Tony Hunt advised that the starting point penalty for breaking the drugs rules should be increased to four years.

However in November another jockey, Chris Timmons, was suspended for a positive cocaine test at a meeting in Ballinrobe the previous May.

At Thursday’s hearing, Justice Hunt, who chaired a panel that also included Justice Leonie Reynolds and Mr Philip McLernan, advised the IHRB that increasing the starting point penalty to five years could act as a greater deterrent in future.

“He said it’s clear that despite the warning that was given at the end of 2017 the message is obviously not being heeded and the starting point in future will be five years,” said the IHRB’s chief executive, Denis Egan.

“The last 13 positives we’ve had in the last four years have all been for cocaine. There have been none for alcohol,” Egan confirmed.

The scale of the problem with cocaine use among some jockeys came to prominence again in 2017 when three riders, Fox, Roger Quinlan and Danny Benson, all tested positive for the drug at a single meeting in Galway in October of that year.

Afterwards, Denis Egan acknowledged the issue and said: “When you have about 30 riders at a race meeting and eight are randomly chosen and three come up positive it indicates there is a problem.”

The increase in entry point penalty to four years was supposed to reflect a new hard line approach and Egan added: “The Committee felt the message isn’t getting out. Individuals are damaging themselves but also the good name of racing.”

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