Two jockeys banned for failing drugs tests

David Simmonson and Cian Cullinan failed tests earlier this year

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has pledged to vary how it tests jockeys after two more riders were banned for taking illegal drugs earlier this year.

Flat jockey David Simmonson from Co Kildare was suspended for two years at a Referrals Panel hearing on Friday following a positive test for cocaine and cannabis at Tipperary in August. The following month amateur rider Cian Cullinan from Co Wexford tested positive for cocaine at the Listowel festival. He received a four year suspension on Friday.

Cullinan and Simmonson can both reapply to have their licences reinstated, subject to conditions, one year after the date they returned the positive tests.

Another jockey, Liam Quinlan, pleaded guilty to failing to submit to carrying out a drugs test at the Galway festival in early August. The panel deferred sanction on that to a later date.


Separately on Friday, Co Meath trainer David Dunne was fined €2,000 as a result of his horse, Druim Samhraidh, testing positive for the anabolic steroid Boldonone after winning at Ballinrobe in August. Druim Samhraidh was disqualified and banned from racing for 14 months.

After Dunne’s fine, an IHRB spokesman said: “The panel heard that the scientific evidence suggests the horse was first exposed to the substance prior to coming into David Dunne’s yard.”

The penalties for both Simmonson and Cullinan continue the disturbing pattern of Irish based jockeys returning positive drug tests in recent years. The last 15 positive test outcomes, over an almost five year period, have been for cocaine. There were no positive tests for alcohol in that time.

In January the IHRB stepped up deterrents by announcing a five year starting point penalty for any rider who fails a drug test. How much of that gets suspended is dependent on the facts of each case.

Simmonson, who rode five winners during the 2017 flat season, and Cullinan, a RACE graduate who rode his first winner at Ballinrobe in September, are the first positive drug test outcomes in 2019.

The IHRB's chief executive Denis Egan said on Friday that represents statistical progress on 2018.

“In 2018 there were 254 test with five positives. In 2019, to date, there have been 331 tests, 268 on the racecourse and 63 in point-to-points, with two positives and one failure to provide a sample,” he explained.

The regulatory body has pledged to ramp up testing and Egan revealed that for the first time all riders at Gowran Park last Saturday were tested.

“We will be varying the way we carry it out. I won’t say specifically what we’re going to do because we want to keep an element of surprise. But we will be varying the way we do our testing in future,” he said.

Egan pointed to two seminars held last year, that were mandatory for apprentice riders and claiming professionals, as a possible contributory factor to the statistical improvement so far in 2019.

“We had another seminar this week in Kildare which was attended by 60 riders. Next week there’s another one in Horse & Jockey. Some very respected senior riders are coming to the seminars and effectively mentoring the younger jockeys as best they can.

“One senior rider said to me that the help is there. But that anyone asking for that help gets perceived as weak. We’ve got to get across that isn’t the case,” he said.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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