By: Brian O’Connor

The Turf Club says it is “optimistic” long-awaited protocols to allow officials from racing’s regulatory body carry out drug tests on stud farms can be put in place within the next two months.

Negotiations between the Turf Club and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association are ongoing to try and hammer out a structure for testing which was a central recommendation of last year’s Anti-Doping Task Force report.

The major sticking point appears to be to the issue of any notice which might be given before testing is carried out.

It is understood the integrity body wants visits to be unannounced while the ITBA wants five days notice to be given to breeders as it insists was agreed with the Turf Club last March.

“There is no evidence within the breeding industry of misuse of substances. We want, and have, a clean industry, and we will do our part to make sure it stays clean,” said the ITBA spokesman, Shane O’Dwyer.

“We agreed protocols last March which included that we want five days notice ahead of any testing being done by the Turf Club. We wanted seven originally but agreed on five alongside other elements such as hair-testing and random selection in relation to testing.

“Then the Turf Club came back to us and indicated they may want to change things. But we will sit down and look at the finer details with them,” O’Dwyer added.

Despite the apparent differences, the Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan said he is hopeful a satisfactory arrangement can eventually be worked out.

 “I am optimistic we can reach a satisfactory conclusion on theses protocols and that all outstanding matters can be resolved within the next month or two,” Egan said.

Anabolic steroid

The Anti-Doping Task Force report was published a year ago on the back of a number of steroids controversies within racing which included trainer Philip Fenton being ‘warned off’ for three years in 2014 for possession of banned animal substances, amongst which was an anabolic steroid.

A former Department of Agriculture veterinary inspector, John Hughes, was disqualified for five years by the Turf Club, which had accredited him as a racing establishment employee card holder, in relation to possession of a quantity of the banned steroid, Nitrotain.

In 2014 the Royal Ascot winning trainer, Pat Hughes, was convicted of possessing unauthorised animal remedies, including an anabolic steroid.

In response, the 16-member task force was set up by Horse Racing Ireland and included representatives from all sectors of the thoroughbred industry including breeders, trainers, owners and sales companies.

After a delay its final report recommended lifetime bans for horses illicitly administered substances which are prohibited at all times. It also urged increased testing and improved laboratory facilities.

Crucially in terms of out of competition testing the report also recommended a protocol be drawn up with the ITBA to allow the Turf Club carry out testing on stud farms. It also said sales companies should make it a requirement that any horse entered for sale is liable for testing under a Turf Club programme.

It appears however that some details still need to be worked on and the situation is complicated by how not all stud farm owners are members of the ITBA.

However Shane O’Dwyer played that down and said: “We have 90 per cent of the foal population; they are owned by members of the ITBA.”

The Anti-Doping Task Force was set up in December of 2014 and was described as an “absolute priority” by both Horse Racing Ireland and the Turf Club to ensure that drug testing within the €1 billion racing and breeding sectors in Ireland is up to the highest international standards.