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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.

Denis Egan to take early retirement from IHRB role

Denis Egan is to take early retirement and step down from his role as chief executive of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.

The 60-year-old has spent more than 25 years working for the regulator, with nearly two decades at the helm. He will, however, stand aside from September 30.

Egan joined the Turf Club in 1995 and became CEO in 2001. When the Turf Club became the IHRB in 2018 he took on the role of CEO at the new body.

“Irish racing has an enviable reputation worldwide, both for its fairness and integrity and has enjoyed huge success at home and around the world,” said Egan.

“I am proud that the Turf Club, and more recently the IHRB, has had a significant role to play in this regard. I believe we now have a strong platform in place to build and grow for the future and I believe the time is right to hand over to a successor to take the organisation to the next level.

“I would like to thank the members of the Turf Club and the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee and particularly the staff of the IHRB for their professionalism and indeed their support down through the years.”

Harry McCalmont, chairman of the IHRB, said: “Denis has made a huge contribution to our organisation, and indeed to the Irish horseracing industry in general both at home and abroad.

“He is highly regarded throughout the world of horseracing and has served the sport well both in Ireland and internationally. Announcing his decision now allows us to identify his successor in a planned way and we will commence this process soon.

“While we are sorry to see him leave, we fully respect his decision and would like to wish him well for the future.”

Bolger to be invited before committee to discuss doping claims

Jim Bolger is to be invited before an Irish parliamentary committee investigating claims of doping in the Irish horse racing industry, it has been confirmed.

Agriculture Committee chairman Jackie Cahill said Bolger’s claims were doing “serious reputational damage” to the industry and that it was important they are either “substantiated or put to bed”.

The Fianna Fail TD for Tipperary confirmed that committee members had decided to ask Bolger and representatives of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, Horse Racing Ireland, the Department of Agriculture and the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association to discuss the matter on July 6.

Earlier this month, Bolger – who this season has won the 2000 Guineas and the Irish equivalent with Poetic Flare and Mac Swiney respectively – outlined his concerns about the possibility of doping within Irish racing in both a newspaper interview and in a racing podcast.

It prompted the IHRB to underline its commitment to “the highest standards of integrity within Irish racing” and a “zero-tolerance approach to doping”.

Cahill told the PA news agency it is “hugely important” that the accusations are investigated given Ireland’s horse racing reputation.

“We’re seen as the world leaders in horse racing. For a small country our success is phenomenal,” he said.

“We really punch above our weight and for a lead trainer – Jim Bolger – to say that there would be a Lance Armstrong incident in Irish racing is extremely serious.

“It just can’t be ignored it must be dealt with.”

He added: “In my view he has to either confirm it or withdraw it. It’s doing serious reputational damage.

Cahill said there is an “obligation” on the committee to investigate the claims.

“The way we look at this is this issue either has to be substantiated or put to bed,” he said.

“You can’t having a doping insinuation like that hanging over the industry.”

“We’ll see what Mr Bolger has to say and we’ll listen to the various authorities and see where we go from there.”

A spokesperson for the IHRB said on Tuesday: “We would welcome the opportunity to meet with the deputies on the Oireachtas Committee and explain details of what we do in terms of equine anti-doping and our strategies as well as the advances that have been made in this area over the last number of years and more recently.”

Curragh officials ‘hopeful’ as deluge puts Irish 2,000 Guineas card in doubt

Officials at the Curragh are more hopeful than confident about the chances of Saturday’s Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas card going ahead after calling a morning inspection for 7.30am.

Pat Keogh, chief executive at the home of Irish Flat racing, confirmed the course is currently unraceable after being hit by a volume of rain far in excess of what was forecast.

Keogh said: “We got lot more rain than we anticipated overnight. We were forecast 15 millimetres at the most in the last 24 hours, and got 35 millimetres.

“It’s come completely out of left field, unfortunately.

“The track would not be raceable today. Most of the track is raceable, but there are a few areas (that are waterlogged) and we will look to get that off the track.

“We’ll just have to monitor things as we go along. If more rain came than was forecast that would give us a problem.

“We’re hopeful, but we will have a precautionary inspection tomorrow morning.”

Saturday’s card is also set to feature three further Group races, while the Curragh is scheduled to stage the Irish 1,000 Guineas and Group One Tattersalls Gold Cup on Sunday.

Heavy rain resulted in morning inspections for both Friday’s jumps cards in Ireland too, at Wexford and Downpatrick.

Both those meetings will go ahead, however – on going which is heavy, soft in places at Wexford and yielding to soft, soft in places at Downpatrick.

Curragh to inspect before Saturday’s Irish 2,000 Guineas card

Saturday’s Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas card will be subject to a morning inspection at the Curragh – with parts of the track waterlogged.

The 7.30am inspection for day one of the Irish Guineas weekend was announced following 34mm of rain at the track, via a Tweet on the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board account.

It read: “@curraghrace Inspection at 7.30am Saturday. After 34mm of rain in last 24hrs, the ground is heavy (Str) & soft to heavy (Rnd). Parts of track waterlogged around 6f & 4f in Straight. Further rain today (approx 5mm according to Met Éireann), unsettled tomorrow with showers.”

Saturday’s card is also set to feature three further Group races, while the Curragh is scheduled to stage the Irish 1,000 Guineas and Group One Tattersalls Gold Cup on Sunday.

Heavy rain resulted in morning inspections for both Friday’s jumps cards in Ireland too, at Wexford and Downpatrick.

Both those meetings will go ahead, however – on going which is heavy, soft in places at Wexford and yielding to soft, soft in places at Downpatrick.

Harrington faces two-week ban and fine for breaking Covid protocols at Aintree

Trainer Jessica Harrington has been prohibited from attending a racecourse for two weeks and has been fined 3,500 euros after contravening coronavirus restrictions during Aintree’s Grand National meeting.

An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board hearing concluded that Harrington “acted in a manner which was prejudicial to the proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing”, and ruled she must not attend a racecourse for two weeks from May 24.

Harrington travelled to Aintree last month without staying in the ‘Irish bubble’, set up for the duration of the three-day meeting in line with Covid-19 protocols. She ran both Magic Of Light and Jett in the Grand National itself.

The veteran trainer told the hearing she was aware of what was required in terms of accommodation within the ‘Irish bubble’ in place for those travelling to Aintree but that her intention was to travel to Aintree from her home on the morning of the race and return to Ireland that evening, therefore not be required to enter the ‘Irish bubble’.

She added that in the days before the fixture she decided that making the journey to Aintree in one day would be too exhausting and changed her plans to travel on the Friday instead and use the opportunity to carry out some independent business with owners by viewing a horse they had requested her to look at – and she accepted an offer to stay at their accommodation.

Harrington added that she felt at the time she was not breaking the rules, because she never entered the Irish bubble on the race day – but now accepts she was in breach of the protocols.

In determining the appropriate sanction, hearing chairman Mr Justice Raymond Groarke noted that “a breach of these protocols could have enormous consequences for racing in Ireland and that Mrs. Harrington accepts that she has been in breach of the rules”.

Amateur rider Rob James banned for 12 months following video on social media

Amateur jockey Rob James has been handed a 12-month ban, the last eight of which are suspended, following an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board referral hearing into the video posted on social media of him sitting on a dead horse.

The hearing took place on Wednesday evening, after the IHRB concluded its investigation into the incident.

Just days after an image of Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse was posted on Twitter, a video of James – who rode the Elliott-trained Milan Native to victory at the Cheltenham Festival last year –
emerged on the social media platform.

James had apologised for his “wholly inappropriate and disrespectful” actions, and said he was “heartbroken by the damage” caused by the video, which was taken in 2016.

A tweet on the IHRB’s official account following the hearing read: “Having considered the evidence, the Referrals Committee found Mr James in breach of Rule 272(i) in that he acted in a manner which was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing.

“They imposed a 12-month suspension of his Qualified Riders licence and Handlers Permit with this last eight months of this suspended.”

James also informed the committee that he would not attend a race meeting or a point-to-point for the four-month period of his suspension.

Following Elliott’s referral hearing on Friday, he received a 12-month ban, with the last six months suspended.

Monday Musings: Crime and Punishment

Sometime between Monday and Friday last week they got together and decided “Gordon’s not really a bad fella, so let’s not be too hard on him”, writes Tony Stafford. You could discern it in the columns of the Racing Post by his day-to-day journalist pals on the racecourse in Ireland as the original abhorrence to first seeing ‘that photo’ was gradually tempered into the “he isn’t really like that” version of the man.

So, by Friday, when the case was finally heard by the IHRB, everyone was patting himself on the back and saying a year ban, suspended for six months was “fair” and had “compassionate undertones”. By the weekend we heard Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster, 67, who lives down the road and “has known Elliott for many years” was taking over the licence.

Apparently “she’s a legend” and has had ten winners – six Flat and four jumps – over the last five years from her small stable close to Elliott’s Cullentra House yard. If that qualifies her to run a stable which still had the mechanism to continue operations last week, sending out seven winners from 26 runners, including an up-yours four-timer last Monday at Punchestown, is another question.

The enormity of the operation in Co Meath, in the centre of the country, is mind-boggling especially in the context that its boss could often make do with Mrs Thatcher-like amounts of sleep after long sessions of partying and still be ready for the fray at dawn every morning.

It’s time to consider a few numbers. In the latest season, which of course was delayed by the onset of Covid19, Elliott has run 321 individual horses in Ireland. Today at Leopardstown he will send out (remotely I trust) the last six before handing over responsibility to Sneezy, taking his number of runners for the season beyond the 1,000 mark.

They have yielded 155 wins and earned €2.855 million. Over the past five years, 891 Irish wins have brought more than €20 million, only slightly less than the €24 million of his great rival Willie Mullins who this season, from fewer than half the runs, has 139 wins from 183 individual horses. Then there are the training fees on top. Who’ll be getting them?

I was intrigued by the six months suspended part of the IHRB ruling. What would cause its implementation? Would it require a similar offence to be committed in the interim six months? And if there is another similar historical photo in the ether showing him on a different stricken horse would that be the only situation in which the extra six months would take effect?

So let’s be honest. It’s six months from tomorrow taking him to September 8 and, while he does miss Cheltenham, Aintree and the big spring Irish Festival at Punchestown, from that point on, Galway apart, it’s something of a quiet off-season time for the top jumps stables in Ireland.

When Nicky Henderson got his three-month ban in 2011 that ran from July to October and barely ruffled his feathers in practical terms. While unable to go into the stables during that period, he continued to live in the main house and the horses were paraded on the lawn in front of his lounge picture window each morning. Off from July to October when he never has much going on, he was back in time for the first meetings at Kempton. Do the words ‘carve’ and ‘up’ come to mind either side of the Irish Sea?

Elliott will be in situ during his suspension and, while he voluntarily stated he would neither go to any race meeting or point-to-point fixture during the course of the suspension, no doubt he could still offer advice to the new boss.

We like to think that the concept of a punishment suitable to fit the crime is still valid. But when you consider how easy in modern society it is for an unwise word to be regarded as of an offensive nature and enough to earn a prison sentence, the Elliott picture becomes clouded. For a couple of days, outrage was universal around the world and racing’s always delicate position with its vociferous opponents was perilous.

Penalties in horse racing can be draconian. Look, for example, at the case of Charles Byrnes, an acknowledged touch-merchant whose six-month ban for “inexcusable behaviour” and negligence surrounding the running of Viking Hoard at Tramore In October 2018 was confirmed at an appeal last month.

The horse, a drifter from 4-1 to 8-1 before the race, stopped suddenly with seven furlongs to run. He had been laid heavily on Betfair that day and on two further occasions when Byrnes sent him over to race in the UK.

Each time substantial five-figure bets were placed by a third party on Betfair and no connection to Byrnes has been established. The negligence case on the Tramore run was based on the decision of Byrnes and his son to leave the horse unattended for 20 to 25 minutes when they went for their lunch. It was obviously the “suspicious drift” and the big lay bets that alerted Betfair who routinely share such information with the authorities.

Returning to Mr Elliott, such was the disgust at the photo that on the 6pm BBC news last Monday evening, in the headlines, after the news of Covid and the rest, they turned to sport. The first and only headline item was that picture. I think Elliott was very fortunate that he didn’t get the full year the committee suggested it meted out.

Nicky Henderson’s three-month summer sojourn didn’t harm his career – if anything it had more negatives for his then two assistants Tom Symonds and Ben Pauling when they left to start their own training businesses.

So suggestions that Elliott will be in any way harmed by his own gentle sabbatical are probably over-stating the potential impact. Gigginstown, his biggest supporter, quickly stood firmly behind him and they are no longer recruiting from the point-to-point field, so he’s not missing as much there either.

*

Meanwhile, an inexperienced amateur rider felt the wrath of an Irish stewards’ panel at Leopardstown yesterday. Young Aaron Fahey, riding the newcomer Lake Winnipesaukee in the concluding bumper, was carried to the front of the field by his hard-pulling mount after four furlongs when the saddle slipped.

The horse continued going easily miles clear of the field until turning for home when he took the wrong course, going to the outside of a rail. Fahey, who has ridden three winners from 11 rides this season, told the stewards he was very tired and unable fully to control the horse which his father trains. They ruled him “negligent” and banned him for 14 days.

Clearly, it’s not what you do: it’s who you are.

*

Denise Foster won’t be going to Cheltenham with the Cullentra House horses, but never mind Sneezy, nor am I. Neither will French Aseel, who has had a setback – good job I switched Triumph horses to Tritonic (cough) - but then Sneezy still has some left in that race even after the Cheveley Park contingent jumped ship.

At last count her new stable has 111 total entries at the Festival many with multiple targets. I’m sure while she won’t be there she’ll be checking that Weatherbys have the correct bank details to send her the trainer’s percentages, which must come to a nice few quid.

One race she will have to watch closely is the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle on the final day. Of the stable’s 34 last-day entries, a dozen are in the race Elliott loves to win in homage to the time he spent at Pond House in his formative years before becoming a trainer.

Another Cheltenham absentee will be Alan Spence who will have no runners at the meeting with On The Blind Side waiting for Aintree. One race he will have in his sights before then, though, is the Dubai World Cup.

Spence part-owned and bred Salute The Soldier, who won four of 14 races when trained by Clive Cox, only once finishing out of the frame. The partners were elated when he was sold at the end of his four-year-old career for 380,000gns after reaching a BHA handicap mark of 104.

Bahraini owner-trainer Fawzi Nass was the buyer and, transferred to his Dubai Carnival stable, the gelding won twice at up to Grade 3 level in his first season there. This time round it has been two wins from three runs for the six-year-old, first a Group 2 and then on Super Saturday last weekend he made all to win Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge, his first at Group 1 level.

I tried in vain looking on the Emirates Racing Authority site to see whether there’s a breeder’s prize for the winner. With $12 million to go round there ought to be and I’m sure Alan would have been checking even as his great favourite went over the line on Saturday. If not, he and former co-owning partner Mr Hargreaves might ask Fawzi for a hand-out should the Soldier beat off the American dirt stars on March 27 at Meydan.

Friday morning start for Gordon Elliott hearing

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s referrals committee will begin hearing evidence at 9.30am on Friday, in the Gordon Elliott investigation.

Elliott has been “cooperating fully” with the IHRB since it was announced after a photograph of him sitting on a dead horse was posted on social media last weekend.

The top Irish trainer has subsequently become subject to a temporary British Horseracing Authority ban on running any of his string in Britain, while top owners Cheveley Park Stud have moved their high-profile horses away from his yard.

Among those is the unbeaten Envoi Allen, who is now in the care of Henry de Bromhead.

Rob James apologises for ‘wholly inappropriate’ video

Irish amateur jockey Rob James has apologised for his “wholly inappropriate and disrespectful” actions after a video of him sitting on a dead horse was posted on social media.

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has already announced an investigation into the footage, which was posted on Twitter on Monday night.

James, who rode Milan Native to victory at the Cheltenham Festival last year, said he is “heartbroken by the damage” caused by the video, which was taken in 2016.

He told the Irish Field: “I have become aware of a video circulating of me on social media.

“I would just like to apologise for my actions which were wholly inappropriate and disrespectful to a lovely five-year-old mare, who unfortunately suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while at exercise earlier that morning, April 30, 2016.

“I sincerely apologise to the owners of the mare, the staff who cared for her, the horseracing industry and all followers of horse racing for my actions.

“To try defending my stupidity at the time would add further insult and hurt to the many loyal people that have supported me during my career. I have caused embarrassment to my employers, my family and most importantly the sport I love.

“I am heartbroken by the damage I have caused and will do my best to try and make amends to those hurt by my conduct.”

The footage follows just two days after trainer Gordon Elliott confirmed an image of him taking a phone call while sitting on a dead horse was genuine.

The trainer is “fully cooperating” with an IHRB investigation into the incident after the photograph on his gallops appeared on Twitter on Saturday night.

On Tuesday morning, the IHRB posted on its own Twitter account that a further investigation is under way following the video footage of James.

The statement read: “The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board are aware of further social media content circulating and the matter is under investigation.”

IHRB investigating social media video

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has confirmed it is investigating “further social media content” after a video, which shows an individual appearing to sit on a dead horse, was posted on Monday night.

The footage follows just two days after trainer Gordon Elliott confirmed an image of him taking a phone call while sitting on a dead horse was genuine.

The trainer is “fully cooperating” with an IHRB investigation into the incident after the photograph on his gallops appeared on Twitter on Saturday night.

On Tuesday morning, the IHRB posted on its own Twitter account that a further investigation is under way.

The statement read: “The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board are aware of further social media content circulating and the matter is under investigation.”

Byrnes loses appeal against six-month suspension

Trainer Charles Byrnes has been unsuccessful in his appeal against the decision of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s Referrals Committee to suspend his licence for six months and fine him €1,000.

Byrnes was handed the penalties after one of his horses tested positive for a prohibited substance after being 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 IHRB committee had ruled that although it was not alleged Byrnes was directly involved in either the administration of ACP or the betting patterns surrounding the horse, “the evidence showed that Viking Hoard was subject to a dangerous degree of sedation during the race”, and came to the conclusion the horse had been “nobbled” by an unidentified third party when left unaccompanied.

The IHRB added at the time that Byrnes had signalled his intention to appeal -and the Limerick trainer has been able to continue having runners in the interim – sending out Off You Go to win at the Dublin Racing Festival.

That appeal was heard last week, and a verdict supporting the original decision was published on Thursday.

In its findings the appeals body said submissions referenced “Mr Byrnes’ personal and financial circumstances and his success as an experienced and capable trainer for 26 years”, and that the loss of his licence “would be ruinous for him” and that his employees would have to be let go and horses currently under his charge would have to be sent elsewhere.

But it added that “the focus of the Appeals Body’s deliberations must be on the blameworthiness of Mr Byrnes’ conduct. In the judgement of the Appeals Body, Mr Byrnes failure to ensure any attendance on Viking Hoard at Tramore Racecourse stables for two significant periods prior to the race on October 18 was, in the language of the Referrals Body, ‘seriously negligent’.”

It added: “Whilst the Appeals Body accepts that there is no evidence that he (Byrnes) was aware of the extraordinary and suspicious betting activity on Viking Hoard, it simply cannot ignore the very serious consequences which flowed from his misconduct and dereliction of duty.”

The appeals body said the penalties were to take effect 14 days from the publication of the verdict.

Byrnes was also ordered to pay costs, estimated at €2,000.

Speaking via Zoom at a press conference arrange by the IHRB, its chief executive Denis Egan said he was “satisfied” with the result while also finding it far from ideal they were still no nearer to knowing who administered the drug or who laid the horse.

“We’re satisfied with the outcome of the investigation. In a perfect world of course we’d like to know who administered the solution to the horse and we’d also have liked to have found out who laid the bet,” said Egan.

“Unfortunately we don’t know who administered the solution and the person who laid the bet is outside the jurisdiction, as such. The perfect result would have been to get both of those, but I think the result is excellent.

“This is something that could have gone completely under the radar had the horse not been sampled in Tramore and I think it was a very good investigation.

“We’ve an excellent relationship with Betfair/Paddy Power and I want to pay tribute to them for their cooperation on an ongoing basis. They supply information to us and are always willing to support us in any investigation.”

Egan also confirmed that Byrnes is not a disqualified person, meaning he can continue to work in racing during his period of suspension.

Charles Byrnes awaiting verdict following Viking Hoard appeal

Trainer Charles Byrnes 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.

Byrnes was handed the penalties after one of his horses tested positive for a prohibited substance after being 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 IHRB Referrals Committee held a hearing via Zoom on January 7, with the authority informing Byrnes of its decision before issuing a 14-page written judgement to support its conclusions.

The committee decided “the evidence showed that Viking Hoard was subject to a dangerous degree of sedation during the race”, and 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 while it was not alleged that 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”.

However, the IHRB added at the time that Byrnes had signalled his intention to appeal and the handler has been able to continue having runners in the interim, sending out Off You Go to win at the Dublin Racing Festival on Sunday.

The appeal was heard on Tuesday evening, with no date set for a verdict.

A spokesperson for the IHRB said on Wednesday: “The appeal was heard last night, the panel reserved their judgement and after that we just await their decision.”

Mullins must serve two-week racecourse ban for Covid protocol breach

Willie Mullins has been fined and will be prohibited from attending a racecourse for a period of two weeks, having been found in breach of Covid-19 protocols.

Two of Mullins’ staff, Katie Murphy and Steve Jones, attended a meeting at Aintree on November 7 and then were present at Punchestown a week later when they should have been restricting their movements.

The IHRB tweeted: “At a referral hearing of W.P. Mullins (Trainer) following the fixture at Punchestown on 14/11/20, Mr. Mullins was found in breach of rule 272(i), fined €2,500 & prohibited from accessing a racecourse for two weeks for a breach of Covid-19 protocols. Full details in due course.”

Further Tweets reported that Mullins’ two staff members must both stay away from the racecourse for three months. Jones has been fined 400 euros, and Murphy 200.

A spokesman for the IHRB said: “The two members of staff, Katie Murphy and Steve Jones, represented Willie Mullins on the November 7 at Aintree and also at Punchestown on the 14th so therefore they didn’t adhere to the Horse Racing Ireland protocols for racing behind closed doors.

“Those protocols required them to self-isolate for a period of up to two weeks before being allowed to go racing again.

“In addition to that they obtained a barcode to get into Punchestown by answering questions dishonestly.

“They were found in breach of rule 272 (i) which is ‘acting in a manner which is prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of racing’ and 272 (ii) which is providing ‘misleading information or give false evidence to an official’.

“Therefore Willie Mullins was found in breach of 272 (i).”

Strict protocols on racecourses in both Ireland and Britain have resulted in a number of trainers being prevented from attending meetings for a period of time after being found in breach, among them Aidan O’Brien and Donnacha O’Brien.

The pair had completed the required paperwork before Irish 2,000 Guineas day at the Curragh during the week of resumption in Ireland, but failed to enter the racecourse through the designated screening area.