Trainers’ body says doping is not a major problem in Irish horseracing

IRTA refutes claims by Jim Bolger, saying international reputation shows sport is clean

The body that represents Ireland’s racehorse trainers has pointed to an absence of positive drug tests in Irish-trained horses when racing abroad as evidence of how doping isn’t a major problem here.

The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA) said it is "not aware" of the sorts of concerns outlined by Jim Bolger on Sunday when he repeated his lack of confidence in racing's regulator and said he knows who the drug cheats are.

In a Sunday Independent interview, one of the most renowned figures in Irish racing history again outlined his belief that there isn’t a level playing field in Irish racing.

In a startling comparison, Bolger declared that "there will be a Lance Armstrong in Irish racing", a reference to the former US cyclist who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles due to doping.

The former champion trainer was again heavily critical of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) and recommended that all of Europe’s racing authorities should invite the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to deal with the drugs problem.

USADA is set to take over the administration of new medication enforcement rules in American racing as part of new legislation that will centralise the process in the US.

Bolger’s comments echoed those he made last year when he said drug cheats are Irish racing’s number one problem. He also demanded more rigorous testing from the IHRB. He didn’t name anyone on that occasion.

On Sunday he again didn’t name names but commented: “They can rest assured I know who they are. Like, if I had responsibility for rooting out cheats, I’d have them rooted out in six months.”

The IHRB declined to comment on the matter on Sunday.

However, the IRTA, which represents the bulk of trainers in Ireland, did respond and said confidence in racing being clean here can be taken from how Irish-trained horses have an excellent record when it comes to passing drug tests in other jurisdictions.

"All our trainers have runners in England and all over the world. We haven't had a positive. I think you have to remember that," said the IRTA's chief executive, Michael Grassick.

‘Different jurisdictions’

"Our sampling [testing] is not done in Ireland. It's done in England, and they're not finding anything. If there is a problem stuff is sent to France as well. I think they've used Hong Kong as well. All those samples would be tested in different jurisdictions," he added.

Asked about Bolger’s claims of a lack of a level playing field, Grassick replied: “I’m honestly not aware of a problem.”

In relation to Bolger’s idea of an outside body being brought into Irish racing to oversee anti-doping, Grassick said the IRTA would welcome anything that helps public confidence in the sport.

“I think any trainer would say whatever sampling that needs to be done to make sure the sport is clean always has to be welcomed.

“Whatever needs to be done to keep the sport clean on an international level, fine.

“We would all have to sign up to that. We race all over the world. And when you race all over the world you’re subject to their rules and regulations and testing. We’ve never had a problem with that. Why would you?” he asked.

Other industry professionals were privately critical of Bolger not providing evidence to back up his claims. One also pointed to a thriving market for Irish-trained horses to be bought and raced overseas as a sign of international confidence in the sport here, and its regulation in relation to drugs.

This year has seen Horse Racing Ireland and the IHRB introduce a system for lifetime traceability and out-of-competition testing for all thoroughbreds.

Last month 11 IHRB officials were given “authorised officer” status by the Department of Agriculture to allow them powers of jurisdiction in premises not licensed by the regulator such as stud farms.

Memorable

Separately, Bolger has enjoyed a memorable classic season in 2021, with Poetic Flare and Mac Swiney successful in the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas respectively.

Poetic Flare also ran in the French Guineas, and was runner-up to his stable companion at the Curragh.

However, he will maintain his busy schedule against top-flight company in Tuesday's St James's Palace Stakes on Day 1 of Royal Ascot.

“Nothing went right in the race at Longchamp. He came back very quickly to finish second at the Curragh so he’s very, very hardy. You couldn’t do that with every horse.

“The biggest trouble I have is keeping the weight off him. He’s a great doer and still has to do plenty at home, despite the schedule,” Bolger told Great British Racing on Sunday.

"He's very well and I think he has a big chance. He goes on any ground too, which is a big advantage. It was good to firm when he won at Newmarket but personally I'd prefer if there was no firm in the description as horses last longer that way," he added.

Other Irish interest in Tuesday's race includes Jessica Harrington's Lucky Vega, Joseph O'Brien's Thunder Moon, who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, and a Ballydoyle trio led by Ryan Moore's pick, Battleground.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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

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