The first hearing of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board in front of a Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine began in Ireland on Thursday, with the IHRB defending itself rigorously. The IHRB has come under pressure recently regarding concerns over doping in Irish racing following Irish trainer Jim Bolger's claims in a newspaper interview that there would be a “Lance Armstrong” moment in the Irish industry. Irish Government committee members asked questions of Horse Racing Ireland's Chief Executive Brian Kavanagh, IHRB Chief Executive Denis Egan and IHRB Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Lynn Hillyer. The meeting began with an opening statement from Kavanagh.
He stated in part the vital nature of horse racing 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.
“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 cited the increased spending on testing, which has spread to all winners in Ireland, as well as more out-of-competition testing at a variety of venues.
He said, “Spending on doping control has increased by 27% 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.
“Any information received by us is assessed, categorised and actioned as appropriate. 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.”
He added, “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.”
Dr. Hillyer reinforced Egan's statements and 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 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.”
Not all of the pertinent questions were asked in the two-hour limit, so another meeting has been called for July 20. In addition, on July 13, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association and representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine will also meet.