By: Richard Forristal

A false positive test for the muscle-building anabolic steroid methandriol has prompted the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board to terminate its links with BHP Laboratories Ltd, 22 years after the Limerick-based firm first began testing equine samples for the regulator.

It is the second time a false positive test has been returned, although on the first occasion the substance was not a steroid.

“The parties participated in a successful mediation on Monday, the terms of which are confidential,” the IHRB’s chief executive Denis Egan told the Racing Post of the split, and BHP has released a similar statement.

“While the parties are no longer working together, the IHRB thanks BHP for its excellent service over the the past 20 years and for its contribution to the integrity of Irish racing. Pending the completion of a procurement process which was launched [on Tuesday], LGC, Fordham has been appointed as the interim service provider. No further comment will be made.”

Newmarket-located LGC is the BHA’s analytical partner and is one of five International Federation of Horseracing Authority-authorised labs.

The dispute between the IHRB and BHP came to a head at a day-long mediation process in Dublin’s Dispute Resolution Centre on Monday, when a settlement in the region of around €500,000 is believed to have been made to BHP after it claimed to have an effective contract worth in excess of €1m to provide testing services for the IHRB up to the end of 2019.

No comment

The Leinster-based trainer whose horse returned the positive test at Roscommon on September 4 is not willing to comment on the issue.

Because the positive A sample in question was for an anabolic steroid, the Turf Club promptly made an unannounced inspection at the trainer’s yard in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, the search and seizure powers of which are now deemed necessary when there is a suspicion that anabolic steroids are at play.

No evidence of illegal substances was found. At the trainer’s request, the B sample was sent to Laboratoire Des Courses Hippiques in France – another IFHA-certified lab – and it came back negative.

The Racing Post understands that the A and B samples were then sent to the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s lab for further tests and both returned negative.

Michael Grassick, chief executive of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, confirmed there had been two false positives but would not be drawn on the specifics, although he did suggest that legal advice has been sought.

“There have been two incidents of false positives in the last few years,” said Grassick. “The trainer in this incidence has been very upset at the erroneous finding that one of his horses tested positive for an anabolic steroid, as he would have been facing a three to five-year ban if he were convicted on the basis of the A sample.

“We have asked for more clarification and information from the IHRB. That has been going on for a number of months and not all of our questions have been answered yet. He has sought legal advice and has the full backing of our association.”

Egan stressed that the IHRB always advises trainers to request the B sample be tested when the A returns positive. “If the B sample is negative, that is the end of it, and that is what happened with this particular sample,” he said.

“The way we always operate is that, if we get a positive A, we will generally visit the trainer’s yard for an inspection. That’s our policy. You could say if we knew the B sample was going to be negative of course we wouldn’t have gone in, but we proceed on the basis that it will be.

“On foot of what’s happened we will relook at our policy,” he added, “but we’ve got to deal with these matters as we see fit. The policy over the last two or three years is that we would go into a trainer’s yard immediately after an A sample returned positive.”

Task force

The episode is another blow to the IHRB’s attempts to restore faith in its anti-doping measures, with the anti-doping task force that was reconvened last November having been disbanded a year earlier still to make any discernible progress in the IHRB’s ambition to increase out-of-competition testing.

The regulator has no jurisdiction over unlicensed premises, and getting breeders to agree to grant access is understood to be the chief sticking point. The task force was initially formed in the wake of Department of Agriculture raids that found then licensed-trainers Philip Fenton and Pat Hughes in possession of anabolic steroids.

Since the end of 2015, following the completion of a HRI-commissioned report into Irish anti-doping procedures by Hong Kong expert Terence Wan, the IHRB has increasingly been sending samples to France.

Wan’s report is understood to have stated that, while BHP was the best equipped lab in Ireland for equine testing, it needed access to modern analytical equipment to upgrade its capability to test for certain prohibited substances in line with IFHA guidelines.

BHP’s claim against the IHRB was based on a belief that it had a contract by dint of a continuation of its arrangement between 2014 and 2017.

While preliminary discussions had taken place in relation to extending that association on the understanding that BHP would continue to upgrade its equipment and methodologies with the support of the IHRB, the false positive case that emerged in the autumn promptly changed the nature of the discussions. BHP has not responded to requests for further comment.

Because it is publicly funded by HRI – to the tune of €9.1m in 2018 – for integrity services, the IHRB is required by law to go through the procurement process as set out by EU directives and the tender has been initiated on the public tender website,