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Charles Byrnes handed six-month suspension

Trainer Charles Byrnes has had his licence suspended for six months by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board after one of his horses tested positive for a banned substance.

The Byrnes-trained Viking Hoard was pulled up at Tramore on October 18, 2018, after which a urine sample was found to contain hydroxyethylpromazinehydroxide (HEPS), a metabolite of acepromazine (ACP), which is a sedative.

ACP is a prohibited drug under the rules of racing – and following Byrnes’ request to test a B sample, the finding was confirmed.

Evidence was heard from various officials and Byrnes himself, who “taking into account the gravity of what occurred” was fined 1,000 euros alongside his six-month ban.

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However, the IHRB added it had “been advised that the trainer will be lodging an appeal against this decision”.

The IHRB Referrals Commmittee hearing was held via Zoom on January 7, with the authority informing Byrnes of its decision on Monday before issuing a 14-page written judgement to support its conclusions.

Evidence was heard from Dr Lynn Hillyer, IHRB chief veterinary officer and head of anti-doping, Declan Buckley, IHRB deputy head of Security, Byrnes and Vincent O’Connor, veterinary surgeon.

The committee heard that Viking Hoard drifted from odds of 4-1 to a starting price 8-1 for the Waterford & Tramore Racecourse On Facebook Handicap Hurdle, with the horse receiving a reminder after jumping the first before being pulled up before the seventh hurdle, with Byrnes’ charge described to have run “conspicuously badly”.

Viking Hoard was found to be suffering a slow heart rate following the race and subsequent tests revealed HEPS was found in high enough concentration to exceed the International Screening Limit (ISL). The ISL is 10 nanograms/millilitre while the estimated detected level in Viking Hoard’s urine sample was 1000 nanograms/millilitre, or 100 times the applicable ISL.

The Referrals Committee decided “the evidence showed that Viking Hoard was subject to a dangerous degree of sedation during the race, and the committee came to the conclusion the horse had been “nobbled” by an unidentified third party when left unaccompanied.

Cliodhna Guy, IHRB head of legal, licensing and compliances, submitted that “it was not alleged that Mr Byrnes was directly involved in either the administration of ACP or the betting patterns, he had taken risks in discharging his responsibilities under the Rules that resulted in an extremely serious outcome from the perspective of the IHRB”.

The committee concluded Byrnes was “seriously negligent in the supervision of Viking Hoard of the day of the Tramore race” and “significant actual damage flowed from the neglect of the trainer” – financial damage for punters and “reputational in the case of the racing industry”.

In handing out the suspension, the committee said Byrnes had “indulged in an unacceptable level of risk-taking in the supervision of his charge on a race day” and concluded a minimal sanction was not suitable as “the facts and consequences of this case passed any such threshold”.