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HRI emphasises commitment to racehorse welfare

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh has described images from Monday night’s Panorama programme concerning the fate of ex-racehorses as “abhorrent”.

The programme, entitled The Dark Side of Horse Racing, broadcast covert footage filmed inside one of the UK’s biggest abattoirs – which it is claimed showed rules surrounding the slaughter of horses being breached.

The programme reported horses had been transported from Ireland to the UK with an injury before arriving at an abattoir – which is against the approved practices – while it was also claimed that contaminated horse meat could be finding its way into the human food chain via the fraudulent practice of switching microchips inside horses to evade passport checks which may show an animal had been treated with Bute.

The HRI says it has reported the chip-switching claim to An Garda Siochana while also seeking the assistance of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in respect of allegations in the programme regarding the transport of horses from Ireland to Swindon in 2019-2020 period.

Discussions took place with that government department on Tuesday, in addition to consultation with the Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board, Irish Racehorse Trainers Association and British Horseracing Authority, which HRI says “emphasised the strong commitment within the industry to the highest standards of care and welfare for each of the circa 50,000 thoroughbreds in Ireland, particularly as they reach the end of their racing career”.

HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh, said: “The images we saw last night were abhorrent to all within Irish racing and in no way reflect the care and attention given to the overwhelming majority of horses in Ireland.

“Our people and our horses are our greatest strength, and it was sickening to see the fate which befell some horses on last night’s programme.

“We support the British Horseracing Authority’s calls for an investigation into whether there has been a departure from approved UK abattoir practices and will support such an investigation in any way we can.

“Likewise, we will work with the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine in relation to transport arrangements for horses between Ireland and England.”

HRI also outlined a series of nine initiatives which shape the Irish Thoroughbred Welfare Council’s Horse Welfare Strategy.

John Osborne, HRI’s director of equine welfare and bloodstock, added: “The care of our horses is at the centre of everything we do. Ireland is home to 2,500 thoroughbred farms on which live over 30,000 thoroughbreds.

“Whether at the top level of creating a vibrant industry in which so many thousands of people devote their lives down to the last detail of improving the day-to-day routine for the horses, the horse is ensured the highest standards of care.

“Everyone in the industry knows that nothing less than the best will do.”

Irish Government officials had earlier denied they were aware that “thousands” of ex-racehorses, previously trained in Ireland, were being sent for slaughter to British abattoirs.

It was claimed that at least 4,000 racehorses have been slaughtered in abattoirs since 2019, with “most, but not all” trained in Ireland.

A number of Irish government officials appeared before the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food, and the Marine and the agriculture department’s deputy chief veterinary officer Michael Sheahan said there were “a few issues” that came up in the programme.

“For me, probably, the most striking issue was around the whole area of horse slaughter,” Mr Sheahan told the committee.

“The footage from the abattoir in Swindon was probably the thing that struck home most with me.”

Independent senator Ronan Mullen said what emerged from the programme was “extremely disturbing”.

“The picture we are getting in recent times in Ireland is that we might be a horse-loving nation, and while there might be people in horse racing who do love horses, there seems to be a lot of people in the horse racing industry who don’t love horses,” he added.

“They see them as machines and entities to be used for making money.

“It is hard for us to believe you are very surprised at what went on in the documentary last night.

“I think most people will feel that you had a fair idea for some time that this kind of thing is going on.”

Dr Kevin Smyth, assistant secretary general at the department, said he had “no idea” what was happening.

“I categorically knew nothing about this until I saw what was on last night,” he added.

“I had no inkling whatsoever.”

Mr Sheahan also told the committee it was illegal to transport injured horses long distances.

“If it was the case that the animal was loaded on a box and transported 200 miles, that’s clearly illegal.

“I’m not sure that was the case.

“He could have been injured en route,” he added.

Mr Mullen was also critical of the traceability system in place for horses, accusing officials of failing to pursue an animal welfare agenda “with vigour”.

Mr Sheahan said there is a “need to move forward” with plans to update regulations this year.

Fianna Fail’s Joe Flaherty said it was “harrowing” footage.

“We have an issue with traceability of horses in this country, and it’s spread across a number of regulatory bodies,” he added.

“We are a horse-loving nation and we greatly pride and value our reputation as an equine nation but the onus has to come to the Department of Agriculture on the issue of horse ownership.”

He said that ownership and traceability of the movement of horses is a “grey area” in Ireland.

“We need to get horse ownership in Ireland, the traceability and where they are sold, how they are sold and where they are exported all into one central database,” Mr Flaherty added.

“In the modern age it’s inconceivable that we have not been able to hack that.”

Mr Sheahan said the traceability system in the horse sector is “nowhere near” as good as the cattle sector.

“We have a Rolls-Royce system when it comes to cattle,” Mr Sheahan added.

“In horses we don’t, but we have come a long way.”

Irish officials defend drugs record as committee hearings start

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board launched a staunch defence of its record concerning drug testing in the first of a series of hearings in front of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food, and the Marine.

Members of the committee put questions to Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, Denis Egan, chief executive of the IHRB, and Dr Lynn Hillyer, chief veterinary officer at the IHRB.

The meetings were arranged following concern over claims in a newspaper interview by leading trainer Jim Bolger that racing would have its own “Lance Armstrong” moment regarding drug use in the sport.

It began with Kavanagh reading out an opening statement in which he stressed the importance of the racing industry to Ireland’s economy and “as such, the reputation and integrity of the product is of paramount importance, so the issue of drug testing is an important one with significant funds invested annually in this area”.

Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland
Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland (PA Wire)

He went on to say: “HRI sees its role as ensuring that the IHRB has sufficient resources, both financial, human and capital to carry out its responsibilities to the level expected of a major racing nation – and we support the IHRB to constantly improve their capacity in this area.”

Kavanagh also reported that all winners in Ireland are tested, that there has been an increase in out-of-competition testing and tests are also carried out at sales, studs and point-to-point meetings.

He said that “spending on doping control has increased by 27 per cent in the last four years, and Horse Racing Ireland has advised the IHRB that funding will never be an issue for meaningful initiatives to improve capability or increase capacity in this area”.

Egan, who recently announced he was taking early retirement, stated: “The IHRB’s Equine Anti-Doping programme has developed into a sophisticated and extensive risk-based and intelligence-led strategy, in which it is not just the numbers of samples which matter but from what horse they are taken, where and when.”

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board is based at the Curragh
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board is based at the Curragh (PA Wire)

Egan also addressed accusations that the IHRB had not acted upon information they were given by a reported whistleblower.

“Any information received by us is assessed, categorised and actioned as appropriate,” he said.

“It is vitally important to the IHRB that those directly and indirectly involved in the industry understand this and the fact that they can provide any information to us in a confidential manner via the confidential hotline, email or by contacting our officials.”

In concluding his opening speech, Egan said: “We have a top-class anti-doping team headed up by Dr Lynn Hillyer – and while we continue to evidence that there is no systematic attempt to cheat through doping in Irish racing, we will continue, with the assistance of the industry and those outside, to effectively detect, disrupt and deter such behaviour. It will not be tolerated – we will continue to seek it out – and where discovered, we will take all actions within our power to combat it without fear or favour.”

Like Egan, Hillyer took issue with the claims of inaction.

She said: “The process is very simple. The information can come in via a number of routes, but once it lands on a desk it is dealt with.

“We don’t care how it comes in, but the important thing is that it comes in. We need to differentiate between information coming in and hearsay. I’m not saying we disregard either, but we have to process it and assess it – that is basically converting information into intelligence, and we work very closely with the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) now. Every piece of information is logged.

“One of the things that rankled the most reading the piece last week was the six horses sold from Ireland to the UK who were alleged to have traces of anabolic steroids.

“We were alleged to be doing nothing about it, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The minute that information came to the BHA they acted on it and communicated with us – we were across it and we were prepared to act.

“They did the most extensive piece of work I think I’ve ever seen. They analysed tail hair, mane hair – they analysed samples repeatedly, and there was nothing.”

Thursday’s meeting was scheduled to last two hours. But not all questions were asked, and it will reconvene on July 20 to address the remaining areas of interest.

On Tuesday there will be another meeting, with representatives of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association and representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine.

Owners to return to Irish racecourses from Monday

Owners are to make a welcome return to Irish racecourses on Monday following last week’s announcement by the Irish Government that up to 200 people can attend outdoor events from June 7.

Gowran Park and Listowel will open their gates to two owners per runner for what will be the first time since September that they will be allowed back on Irish racecourses.

Designated areas for owners to meet their trainers and jockeys have been established on each track, while winning owners will be permitted to enter the parade ring after a race to greet their horse.

Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, said: “We have said all along that getting owners back on the racecourse has been a priority and it is great that it is happening from Bank Holiday Monday at Gowran Park and Listowel.

“Owners have stood by the industry during a very difficult period and their return on track paves the way for greater opening up of race meetings to racing fans in the coming months. Horse Racing Ireland’s Ownership team will be in contact with all owners in advance of Monday with full details.

“Obviously, the overall experience for the time being will be an outdoor one, and to ensure that everybody can stay safe, there will be a number of requirements for owners, including registration in advance and arrival through the Health Screening Check-In Area.”

HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh to end tenure in September

Brian Kavanagh will leave his role as chief executive officer of Horse Racing Ireland at the end of his current contract in September.

Kavanagh has held the position for 20 years – and HRI, which is the commercial semi-state body responsible for the overall governance, development, promotion and administration of thoroughbred racing in Ireland, will begin a recruitment campaign on Friday.

HRI chairman Nicky Hartery said: “I would like to thank Brian Kavanagh for 20 years of incredible service and deep commitment to Horse Racing Ireland and to the industry in Ireland.

“Brian was the first CEO of Horse Racing Ireland when appointed in 2001 – and during his time, he has played a huge role in Irish racing and breeding, enabling it to become a leader on the global stage while domestically overseeing the growth of a vital rural-based industry.

“His knowledge and expertise, at home and abroad, will no doubt ensure that Brian will continue to play a significant part in the industry, and we wish him well.”

Kavanagh added: “It has been a privilege to serve as chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland and to work under three different chairmen who each promoted a strategic vision for the Irish horse racing and breeding industries.

“It is a sector full of variety and of really talented people, and I have nothing but good memories of the projects and people that I have dealt with on the way. I would like to pay particular tribute to the board members and staff of Horse Racing Ireland, past and present, whose commitment and dedication to the improvement of the industry has been a constant during my time as chief executive.”

Irish-trained horses dominated this year’s Cheltenham Festival, providing 23 of the 28 winners at the four-day meeting.

Kavanagh added: “Last week was a good week for racing, but we cannot rest on our laurels – and there is much work to do between now and September.

“While Brexit and Covid-19 are currently providing significant challenges, there are wonderful opportunities facing the sector also. Our horses and our people are our greatest strength.”

CCTV to be installed at all Irish racecourse stable yards

CCTV cameras are to be installed in every racecourse stable yard in Ireland as part of a range of new anti-doping measures to be introduced.

Leopardstown is currently the only one of the 26 tracks to have such equipment, a statistic which has come into wider focus following the recent high-profile case involving trainer Charles Byrnes.

The County Limerick-based trainer is awaiting a verdict from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s appeals panel after contesting the decision to suspend his licence for six months and fine him €1,000.

HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh (left) has detailed the new powers to be introduced to assist in anti-doping
HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh (left) has detailed the new powers to be introduced to assist in anti-doping (PA)

Byrnes was handed the penalties after one of his horses tested positive for a prohibited substance following a race in which he was pulled up at Tramore on October 18, 2018.

The urine sample of Viking Hoard was found to contain hydroxyethylpromazinehydroxide (HEPS), a metabolite of acepromazine (ACP), which is a sedative and forbidden under the rules of racing.

The sedative is believed to have been administered in the stable yard on course by person or persons unknown while Byrnes and his son left the horse unattended for a brief period.

The Horse Racing Ireland board said it will provide funding for the installation of CCTV cameras in the stable yards at every racecourse, with tender documents to be published shortly by the IHRB.

In announcing a zero-tolerance regime, HRI intends to sample 4,000 plus horses in Ireland this year, with 600 samples to be taken at public auction and no-notice testing to be applied as the IHRB veterinary team has been granted authorised office status.

“Integrity around anti-doping is a top priority for the Irish racing and breeding industry,” said HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

“People who set out to intentionally break the rules and use prohibited substances will be identified and prosecuted. They have no place in Ireland’s world-renowned racing industry, and all industry bodies are committed to zero tolerance in this area.”

He was speaking at HRI’s announcement that new powers, new supports and new funding will be deployed to ensure continuous improvement in the area of anti-doping. HRI will work closely with all racing bodies to ensure Ireland continues to operate to the best international standards.

Under new powers granted to the IHRB by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, every thoroughbred in the country will in future be liable for testing without notice on both licensed (trainers) and unlicensed premises

“We know from the number of tests performed each year, and from the variety of testing methods used, that Ireland has a robust system which operates at or above agreed global standards,” said Kavanagh.

“Additionally, there is a stringent range of penalties that can be applied by the IHRB, which can go up to a lifetime ban for horses deliberately administered a substance prohibited at all times.

“In 2021, in excess of 4,000 samples will be taken from racehorses in Ireland by the IHRB, and in the region of 25 per cent will be out of competition tests or tests taken before horses come under the care of a licensed trainer. All samples are tested in an internationally accredited reference laboratory. In addition, approximately a further 600 samples will be taken from horses for sale at public auction.

“However, this is an area that we can never be complacent about – and Horse Racing Ireland has been working with the IHRB to bring about further improvements to the systems this year.

“Our efforts and investment remain focused on ensuring that Ireland’s €2billion equine industry, an industry that employs thousands of people and encourages significant foreign direct investment, operates one of the most comprehensive systems of testing of any racing or breeding jurisdiction in the world. This is as it should be, given the importance of the industry and the value of trade in Irish horses.

“Irish horses compete internationally more than any other country and are tested without issue under many different regimes, which gives us confidence as to our systems. We welcome the increased powers granted to the IHRB, which will further enhance the levels of out of competition and pre training testing in Ireland.”

Denis Egan, chief executive of the IHRB, said: “The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board welcome the continuous support of Horse Racing Ireland and obviously share the goals of HRI, and everyone in the racing and breeding industry, to continue towards delivering a gold standard in equine anti-doping systems.

“Anti-doping never stands still. Our strategy has always been to take the right sample from the right horse at the right time. This has been one of the main drivers of a greater move towards out-of-competition testing, which in 2019 represented 18 per cent of all samples taken – up from seven per cent in 2016. In percentage terms the total number of runners tested in Ireland – at 10 per cent – is comparable to other jurisdictions.

“The appointment of IHRB officials as Authorised Officers will give the IHRB powers to access any Thoroughbred which is bred to race, at any time. No racing authority has greater powers when it comes to inspections and sampling, and this will further enhance our ability to deliver an equine anti-doping programme that is one of the best in the world.”

Monalee forced to miss King George due to Irish travel ban

Horse Racing Ireland has announced that no Irish-trained horses or jockeys will be allowed to compete in the United Kingdom until December 31 in light of the Irish Government ban on UK travel.

In addition, no UK-based horses will be allowed to run in Ireland during that time.

The news is a blow to trainer Henry de Bromhead, who had intended to run Monalee in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase on Boxing Day and Put The Kettle On against Altior in the Desert Orchid Chase a day later.

De Bromhead said: “Obviously it’s disappointing, but that’s just the way the cards have fallen and that’s the way it is.”

Irish horses will be missing from Kempton's Christmas meeting
Irish horses will be missing from Kempton’s Christmas meeting (David Davies/PA)

Monalee has the alternative option of running in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on December 28, in which he has finished second in each of the past two seasons, although his owner Barry Maloney already has the hot favourite for this year’s renewal in Minella Indo.

Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On could line up for the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown 27.

“I don’t know whether they’ll go to Leopardstown or not – we haven’t made any plans yet,” De Bromhead added.

“They both have options, so we’ll speak to their owners and decide after that.”

Gordon Elliott looked set to be represented at Chepstow on Sunday in the Finale Hurdle, while Olly Murphy was intending to send Thomas Darby across the Irish Sea to Leopardstown, but updated guidance has put paid to those plans.

Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of HRI, said: “The concern from Government is very clear – these are exceptional times and a travel ban with the UK is a once-in-a-generation occurrence.

Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On was due to take on Altior this weekend
Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On was due to take on Altior this weekend (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“Irish racing has followed Government advice at all times during Covid-19 and will continue to do so.

“In that regard, we are advising that no Irish-trained horses or jockeys should travel to the UK for competition between now and December 31, and no UK horses or jockeys should travel in the opposite direction.”

Kavanagh added: “It’s a shame as runners from the different countries add to the meetings at both Kempton and Leopardstown, but these are unprecedented times.

“We’re hoping after the 31st the ban will be lifted, I think it’s a short-term thing to take stock.

“The main thing is racing can carry on behind closed doors.”

Racing continues in Ireland but owners to be excluded once again

Racing in Ireland is to continue but without owners in attendance after the Irish Government rejected expert advice to introduce the highest level of restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) recommended that all 26 counties be elevated to level five restrictions for the next four weeks, which among other things would have meant no organised sport would be allowed.

The Government will instead move the whole country to level three, which is already in place across Dublin and Donegal.

“It’s back to racing behind closed doors so level three, which means it will only be essential workers allowed,” said Horse Racing Ireland chief executive, Brian Kavanagh.

“We’re back to the situation we were in a month ago, but the good news is racing can continue and will continue, which is great.”

The Irish Cabinet met on Monday afternoon to discuss the recommendations after the coalition leaders spoke to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan about proposals for tighter restrictions, which would have seen the country return to lockdown.

The recommendation from Nphet was made as the country struggles to get to grips with rising infections, with almost 1,000 cases confirmed over the weekend.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the new restrictions will last for three weeks.

He said that some people are taking a more “lax” attitude.

Mr Martin said there will be an increase in the level of public guidance on compliance over the coming days.

“(The virus) has challenged us to our very core,” he added.

“This is not about public health and businesses competing against each, it’s about protecting and lives and livelihoods.

“If we all act now we will stop the need to go further and I have no doubt we can and will get through this. We will reach a time when we can go through our
lives without worrying if we will catch this virus.

“What happens next rests in our own hands.”

He went on: “We have had detailed discussions since receiving Nphet’s recommendation to move straight to a level five lockdown.

“Central to our discussions has been looking at the wider implications of moving immediately to level five rather than realising the full potential impact
of lower level restrictions.

“It’s important to understand that we are in a very different situation to last March.

“Businesses are beginning to recover and vital public health services are still backlogged, severe restrictions now would have a very damaging impact,
which those services and businesses may not be able to recover from.

“That said, the Government has decided to increase the level of controls in most of the country and to step up efforts to ensure compliance with
guidelines.

“As part of this we have decided at this stage, not to move to a more comprehensive lockdown.

“It’s important to understand that the potential implications of such a move are severe and very different from those we faced earlier this year.

“It could involve the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs with these concentrated in families and communities, which are already experiencing
difficulties.”