Trainers’ body disassociates itself from Bolger’s doping claims

IRTA chairman Halford tells Oireachtas committee good name of Irish racing has been ‘maligned’

The body representing Ireland’s racehorse trainers has comprehensively disassociated itself with Jim Bolger’s claims in relation to doping and integrity in Irish racing.

Appearing in front of a second session of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee examining Bolger's claims about drugs being the sport's number one problem, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA) chairman, Michael Halford, described the good name of Irish racing as having been "maligned".

Halford, a Group One-winning trainer and on the board of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), told the committee on Tuesday: "In my position as chairman of the IRTA, I can honestly say that apart from a well-publicised recent claim imparted from one trainer, I have never received any reports on doping in Irish racing.

"I am disappointed and upset that the reputation and good name of Irish horse racing, and its world renowned trainers, is being maligned in this way. In Ireland we are world leaders of our sport and it is something we are proud of."


It emerged in questioning from the committee that Bolger, who has claimed there will be a Lance Armstrong figure in Irish racing, and who has been heavily critical of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, resigned from the IRTA on March 19th of this year.

The IRTA represents up to 350 of Ireland's registered trainers and the body's chief executive, Michael Grassick, told the committee that only eight trainers are non-members. He said Bolger gave no reason for his resignation.

Such an apparent schism between Bolger and his colleagues was underlined when Senator Ronan Mullen put it to Halford that sometimes it takes bravery to blow the whistle on wrongdoing. The IRTA chairman replied: "They've only blown the whistle. They haven't stood up."

Senator Paul Daly said there was a lot of "dúirt bean liom go ndúirt beat leí stuff going on" and expressed concern about the impact of so much speculation on racing's reputation.

Ahead of a scheduled BBC Panorama programme next Monday about what happens to horses after their racing careers have finished, and which is expected to include a number of Irish trainers in relation to animals being euthanised in Britain, Grassick conceded some reputational damage was occurring.

However he said it was "misguided" in relation to doping and described it as being based on little more than "rumours and innuendo". He also said that while his body didn't agree with everything the IHRB did, in general it had confidence in the regulator.

Rejected claims

Officials from the under-fire IHRB and Horse Racing Ireland also appeared in front of the committee for a second time on Tuesday.

The regulator's chief executive Denis Egan again rejected claims of the IHRB being a closed shop and said it was accountable to six different organisations including the Agriculture Committee, insisting it is "fully transparent" and had "nothing to hide".

The body's head of anti-doping Dr Lynn Hillyer was quizzed by Michael Fitzmaurice TD about how the IHRB isn't fully aware yet of what horses are present on unlicensed premises such as stud farms when it arrives to do out-of-competition testing.

He made comparisons to the Department of Agriculture’s AIM animal identification systems which are used to trace animal movements of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats with the aim of reassuring consumers that food can be traced back to source.

He said the racing sector had had ample time to put a similar system in place before IHRB personnel acquired authorised officer status at the end of May.

HRI's chief executive Brian Kavanagh responded by saying a working group also including the Department of Agriculture and Weatherbys, who are in charge of the stud book, aims to be completed within 12 months to "complete the circle" in terms of traceability on stud farms.

A third meeting of the committee in relation to doping is scheduled for next Tuesday when officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine appear before it.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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