TRAINERS are keen to find out how the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board [IHRB] intends to “introduce changes” to its current system of pre-race blood testing later this year.

Pre-race testing [PRT] was introduced by the IHRB in 2021 and it was agreed at that time that the authorities would take a blood sample from all runners in selected races, to ensure that no individual runner was disadvantaged by being subjected to a needle minutes before racing.

This approach can put time pressure on veterinary officers, trainers and stable staff if, for example, a 30-runner race was chosen for testing. Horses do not have to be on the racecourse until one hour before their race and need to be stabled and tacked during that time.

Nevertheless, there were 253 pre-race tests carried out last year and a further 112 so far this year. None of these tests – which are primarily to detect and deter ‘milkshaking’ or alkalinisation – has produced an adverse analytical finding.

This week the IHRB published its latest Equine Anti-Doping Report in which it stated a desire to “evolve” the PRT system in line with recommendations from the anti-doping audit carried out by Dr Craig Suann earlier this year.

In that report Dr Suann recommended scaling up the PRT system to match top international standards. This would involve two extra staff, he noted, and swift transfer of the blood samples to a laboratory.

“The author is aware of the current agreement between IHRB and the trainers whereby if pre-race bloods are to be collected, then all horses in that particular race must be sampled. This is not the case in other jurisdictions, in for example California and Australia, where there is targeted pre-race blood sampling on selected horses in a race, without detriment to the pre-race condition and state of the horses and with no evidence to suggest they are disadvantaged in the race when compared with non-sampled runners.

“Consultation should take place with the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA) and any other relevant industry body as part of the implementation of this initiative.”

Michael Grassick, CEO of the IRTA, told The Irish Field: “Taking a blood sample from a horse who is ready to race can be unsettling, so the fairest way is if all horses are tested. Recently we met with Dr Lynn Hillyer, Paul Murtagh and Cliodhna Guy of the IHRB to discuss this issue and we are waiting to hear their proposals.”

John Fitzgerald of the Restricted Trainers Association added: “We have no problem in principal with pre-race testing, as long as it is done properly and in a controlled way. There are logistical issues if there are a lot of runners. For example, a small trainer might be there on his own and there would be a delay if they were not with the horse at a particular moment.”

This week’s report also revealed that a total of 3,000 samples have been taken by the IHRB in the first half of the year and these produced only two adverse findings, down from 10 for the same period in 2021.

Dr Hillyer issued a warning to trainers in regard to triamcinolone acetonide [TCA], a corticosteroid anti-inflammatory medication commonly used in equine practice but a prohibited substance on racedays. Unlike other medications, TCA does not have a published detection time and can remain in a horse’s system for longer than expected, depending on where the injection was given.

Also this week the IHRB advertised for a Deputy Head of Veterinary Operations, a new senior role offering a salary of between €80,000 and €95,000. “The successful candidate will have the courage of their convictions, be adept at making decisions and have the flexibility, adaptability and organisational skills to be able to respond to changing priorities at short notice.”