By: Brian O’Connor

The board of Horse Racing Ireland has unanimously approved a new ‘Industry Wide Policy on Prohibited Substances & Doping Control’.

 The long-awaited new protocol promises to introduce a radical overhaul of drug testing and traceability in both racing and breeding and was described on Monday as a landmark moment by HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

Final agreement on the new document has taken two-and-a-half years since wide-ranging recommendations were made in an Anti-Doping Task Force report issued at the start of 2016.

That task force, which included representatives from organisations throughout the thoroughbred industry, was set up on the back of a number of controversies involving anabolic steroids.

One the task force’s key recommendations was a system to allow vets from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board carry out testing on premises it doesn’t licence such as stud farms.

That jurisdictional issue plagued subsequent discussions, particularly in relation to the Breeders organisation. But the new policy allows for a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that allows IHRB officials be involved in both random and intelligence led testing throughout racing and breeding.

“It has been approved unanimously by the board and this is a very positive step for the industry going forward. It will give the necessary support for the value of trade in Irish bloodstock and a lot of credit goes to all the industry bodies who around the table,” Kavanagh said.

The length of time it has taken to achieve industry agreement has come in for criticism although Kavanagh downplayed that.

“It’s better to get it right than to get it quick and I think we’ve got the right outcome,” he said. “And these are not problems exclusive to Ireland. These challenges are being faced in Britain as well in terms of traceability and testing outside licensed premises.

“There’s still plenty of work to be done in terms of getting the necessary systems in place for the start of next year. But this is a very positive move,” Kavanagh added.

The new policy has been signed up to by HRI, the IHRB, the registration company Weatherbys, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, Goffs, Tattersalls, Goresbridge Sales and associations representing owners and trainers.

Among its central elements are lifetime bans for horses that test positive for steroids, no Therapeutic Use Exemptions and lifetime traceability of all thoroughbreds.

Concerns have been raised by the IHRB however in relation to a provision for ‘prior day notice’ in some circumstances for random testing. The regulatory body has described that as “less than ideal”.