Turf Club increases testing but sees no evidence of drug culture in Irish racing

Butler faces BHA enquiry into steroid use

The Turf Club has stepped up its rates of drug-testing horses in training in 2013 but claimed yesterday it doesn’t believe there is a drug culture within Irish racing.

Denis Egan, chief executive of Irish racing's regulatory body, said the increase in out-of-competition testing had been planned for this year anyway and isn't connected to the current controversy in Britain over steroids.

That saga took another twist yesterday when Irish-born, Newmarket-based trainer Gerard Butler admitted to giving steroids to some of his string while they were in training.

He said he administered the drugs on veterinary advice but faces the prospect of a British Horseracing Authority inquiry and the possibility of being banned.


Yesterday's development came just days after Mahmood Al Zarooni was banned for eight years by the British authorities for using anabolic steroids on 15 of Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin string in Newmarket.

Butler’s claim that up to 100 other horses in Newmarket may have been given the same steroid used on his horses has reopened the controversy over the use of medication in Britain.

However, the Turf Club insists it has no reason to believe there may be a similar problem in Ireland.

“We have no evidence to suggest that there might be. Every winner is tested here and we also have a testing-in-training programme that has been stepped up this year,” Egan said yesterday.

"We were doing that anyway and in the first four months of 2013 the numbers of tests has increased," he added.

'No evidence'
"In the last seven years we have visited 55 different trainers for testing-in-training, some more than once. And there has been no positive for anabolics. There is no evidence of a drug culture here," he added.

Over 3,000 drug tests were carried out by the Turf Club in 2012, the vast majority of which were done on race day but 70 of which took place on horses in trainer’s yards. There was one positive result.

In 2011, 76 tests were carried out in-training with seven positives. In 2010, there were a couple of positives while in 2009 there were eight. All the positives were for minor offences, medications that Egan described yesterday as “run-of-the-mill”.

The latest twist in the steroids issue in Britain has resulted in the BHA confirming a separate investigation is taking place after a number of positive samples taken in Butler’s yard in February.

Unlike the Al Zarooni case, Butler insists the treatment was recommended by vets and he included the injections in his official medical records which were seen and returned by the British Horseracing Authority without comment.

'Advised in good faith'
"I'm not trying to defend myself, just to explain what happened. And I must emphasise I was advised in good faith by my vets.

“It was an unpardonable misjudgment, purely to cut corners in what is a very expensive treatment,” Butler said yesterday.

“I have been very uncomfortable over the past few days, hearing and reading about the Al Zarooni case.

“I feel people need to know about what has happened in my yard.

“I know I’m obliged to satisfy myself that each and every treatment is within the rules, and I failed to do so in this case. But I am certain that this medication has been misunderstood by many others.

“And I just hope that the BHA is being suitably rigorous in establishing whether that is indeed the case.

“It did not cross my mind that there could be any problem with this medication. And, judging from the fact that the BHA said nothing about it when they saw my medical book, it does not seem to have crossed their minds, either,” added Butler, a Group One-winning trainer.

A BHA statement yesterday said: “While conscious of the need not to prejudice the outcome of the current inquiry, the investigation has established that the source of the positive samples was a veterinary product, licensed in the EU and legally imported for use by a veterinary practice, the initial administration of which was recommended by a vet.

“This investigation remains ongoing and a number other parties have been and will be interviewed, including representatives of the veterinary practice in question.

“One of the objectives of this investigation is to clarify the extent to which this product has been distributed and administered to horses in training.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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