By: Richard Forristal

Denis Egan, chief executive of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, has revealed 2018 will produce an increase in the number of horses returning positive tests for banned substances, but insists there is nothing sinister about the spike despite the year being only at the halfway point.

In each of the past three years, five positive tests have been returned, with as few as a single positive identified in 2012 and 2013. Those figures include all tests for samples taken at the races, on random out-of-competition yard visits and at point-to-points.

The five positives returned in 2017 came from a pool of 4,094 samples acquired, every one of which was tested, according to Egan.

In February, following a false negative test for the anabolic steroid methandriol and shortcomings in the lab’s testing capabilities, the IHRB ended its 22-year association with BHP Laboratories Ltd, at a cost of around €500,000.

A procurement process has since been initiated to source a new lab and it is expected the IHRB will be in a position to appoint the new company before the autumn.

In the meantime, the regulator has been utilising the internationally accredited LGC lab in Newmarket. Despite the fact he could confirm halfway through 2018 that the 2017 tally will be trumped, the IHRB’s chief executive doesn’t believe the rise in positives is unduly concerning.

“I don’t think it is,” Egan responded when asked if the trend was significant. “It will rise this year, but sometimes you go through phases and we aren’t talking double figures here yet. We’ve had two hearings for positive tests already this year and there are a few more that haven’t come to a hearing yet.”

In 2011, the number of positives came in at seven, and Egan indicated that is likely to be matched.

Despite what was described as “commercial quantities” of anabolic steroids being found by the department of agriculture during the 2012 raid on disgraced vet John Hughes – and Hughes’s brother Pat and fellow former trainer Philip Fenton also being convicted in 2014 possession of anabolic steroids – the IHRB has never unearthed a positive test for anabolic steroids and Egan suggested that isn’t going to change in the near future.

‘Down to sloppy practices’

“We are heading in that direction,” he replied when asked if the 2011 figure would be matched, “but there is nothing like steroids. We don’t think there is anything to be alarmed about.

“At the moment, we think a lot of them could be down to sloppy practices, rather than anything sinister, notwithstanding that we haven’t concluded all of our investigations.”

The two hearings that have already concluded this year involved relatively innoccuous substances. Fozzy Stack was fined €1,000 and ordered to pay €300 in costs when Liex Excelsa was disqualified from her maiden win at Cork on March 31 after testing positive for the anti-inflammatory triamcinolone acetonide.

Denis Hogan was fined the same amount and ordered to pay €500 in costs when Moskovite was disqualified from her point-to-point victory at Killeagh on January 14 after traces of the pain-killing anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone were found in her system.