By: Richard Forristal
Recreational drug use around racing yards increases the risk of horses testing positive for illegal substances, trainers in Ireland have been warned.
All licensed trainers have received written notification of the threat in a one-page advisory note from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board following a spike in the number of horses returning positive tests.
Noel Meade, chairman of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, has welcomed the circulation of the document, which also advises that the use of stables as toilets increases the potential cross-contamination.
“We are currently dealing with an increased number of positives for prohibited substances in post-race samples so wish to reiterate the following advice to minimise the risk of your horses testing positive,” the document circulated by Dr Lynn Hillyer, the IHRB’s head of anti-doping, begins.
It then advises: “Cross-contamination risk can be reduced by recognising what might contain a prohibited substance and adopting a common-sense [approach] to controlling your horses’ exposure to it. Smoking, eating or drinking near horses can inadvertently expose them to prohibited substances such as caffeine or theobromine.
“Human use of medication and/or recreational drugs can cause a problem – trainers need to make their staff aware of how easily residues can be transferred and take appropriate steps, such as those that feed wearing gloves if they are on a medicine and not allowing staff to use stables as toilets.”
Earlier this month, the IHRB chief executive Denis Egan suggested there was nothing sinister about the spike in positive tests but confirmed that the 2018 tally would top that of 2017, despite the year being only at the halfway point.
In each of the past three years, five positive tests were returned, with just a single positive identified in 2012 and 2013. Last February, the IHRB cut its long-standing ties with BHP Laboratories Ltd in Limerick at a cost of around €500,000 after a false positive for the anabolic steroid methandriol and shortcomings in the lab’s testing capabilities.
Since then, all samples from race day, point-to-point and out-of-competition testing have been sent to LGC lab in Newmarket, and Egan indicted to the Racing Post a fortnight ago that the regulator was already on course to match the 2011 total of seven. So far this year, there have been just two relatively innocuous positives dealt with, one before the new testing regime began and one afterwards.
Now, Hillyer has reacted by reminding trainers of potential pitfalls, with the guidance on recreational drugs coming just weeks after it emerged that the Jeremy Noseda-trained Walk In The Sun had tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine after he won at Lingfield in February.
Former champion trainer Meade said of the document: “Hopefully recreational drugs aren’t an issue, but anything is useful if it helps keep trainers informed of what they need to be aware of. We’ve had a few tests over the years that have been practically unexplainable and nobody has explained why, so I suppose this is a help.
“The fact that there are more positive samples is worrying, but it could be a once-off thing as well. I hope it is. I personally don’t think there is any drug problem in horses in Ireland, but we have to be vigilant and everybody wants to be on a level playing field.”
Guidance on the distinction between withdrawal times, detection times and stand-down times, the use of supplements that haven’t been subject to adequate quality control, use of unlicensed products that can be purchased online and administration of substances that are banned on race day are other issues addressed in the document. It also reminds trainers that elective testing can be arranged if they have concerns about a horse who is entered to run.
Meade referred to positive tests on two of his own horses as cases in point, with Very Wood disqualified after winning the Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan in 2015 following a positive test for the banned substance capsaicine, an active component in red pepper.
The other involved Champoleon, who in 2017 was belatedly disqualified from his maiden hurdle victory at Punchestown in 2015 having tested positive for caffeine. Meade was not fined in that instance as the regulator deemed he took all reasonable precautions to abide by the rules.
“There was a minimal amount in the sample and we were never able to prove where it came from,” Meade said on Monday of the caffeine finding. “In the case of Very Wood, the supplement we were giving the horse was supposed to be clear, but in actual fact it wasn’t. It had peppers in it, but the manufacturer’s labelling was wrong.”
In Britain the BHA works with the National Trainers Federation to provide guidance to trainers on unintentional exposure to prohibited substances.
The BHA’s Robin Mounsey said: “The BHA also provides guidance to individual trainers who contact us directly. We are always developing our guidance to trainers and provide updates and notices from time to time.”