Irish trainers’ chief Michael Grassick says he would be “naïve” to think no doping has ever taken place in the sport in Ireland – but underlined he has never been “approached or given information that there were illegal substances being used on horses in training”.
Grassick, who is chief executive of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, was speaking before the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee at the latest in a series of hearings prompted by claims in a newspaper interview by Jim Bolger that racing in Ireland would have its own “Lance Armstrong” moment regarding drug use in the sport.
Grassick and IRTA chairman Michael Halford were both clear in their assertions that they had no knowledge of drugs being used, with Grassick pointing out such information would be passed to the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board for investigation.
He said: “In my previous life, before I took over the position as CEO of the trainers’ association, I was a trainer for 35 years myself – and never in my time as a trainer or as CEO of the trainers’ association was I ever approached or given information that there were illegal substances being used on horses in training.
“Normally, if that information doesn’t come to me it would go to the IHRB. They are the regulators, so it would be them that would see that sort of information.
“There’s about 350 members who hold a trainer’s licence and there’s only eight of those trainers that are not a member of the trainers’ association.
“In 2012 there was a well-known case, of which a certain amount of drugs were brought into the country. I suppose people have asked where did all those drugs go – I have no idea where those drugs went.
“There were some trainers that were in trouble over that, but apart from that, I have no other information. Nobody knows where that (Nitrotain) went.”
Halford added: “Nobody has voiced any concerns with me in relation to allegations of doping.
“They (IHRB) have access to our yard 24/7. They can call whenever they wish and look through all this stuff. It’s all above board and it’s all there to be seen.”
Bolger is one of the handful of trainers who are not members of the IRTA, and Halford said of his comments: “The people making the claims are a minority. They’ve only blown the whistle, they haven’t stood up.”
Grassick said: “I was surprised (by the claims). I would have spoke to him a couple of months ago, when this first came up.
“Since March 19th he’s no longer a member of the trainers’ association. I spoke to him for a long period of time and he had no names of any trainers involved or the names of any drugs. He had no additional information that he could give to me.”
Asked whether he believed there was a problem with doping in Irish racing, Grassick said: “I’d be naïve to think nothing ever takes place, but I am personally not aware of anything – nothing has been brought to my attention.
“Anything would go before the IHRB. It’s up to them to investigate if they feel that there is something in Irish racing.
“The amount of testing that goes on pre-race and post-race – if there’s anything untoward, it is found.
“You hear rumours, (but) it’s rumours – I can’t act on rumours. I can only act on facts and any information that’s given to me. As I’ve said before, if I received any information, I’d go to the IHRB. It’s up to them as the regulatory body to investigate.”
Grassick admitted Irish racing’s reputation had taken a knock following Bolger’s claims and believes it is down to trainers, the IHRB and Horse Racing Ireland to restore public faith in the sport.
He said: “I think some damage has been done to our reputation, but I think it’s misguided.
“The only way we can work this out is with the co-operation of the IHRB. To me, it’s just rumours and innuendo – and if people keep saying that, there’s not much we can do apart from working with HRI and the IHRB.
“There’s more testing been done in the last couple of months than there’s ever been done before.
“I don’t know what else we can do to prove what’s going on or not going on.”
Grassick said he was “in favour” of pre-race testing, which he expects to come into force “in the next couple of weeks”, while also expressing “disappointment” that CCTV is not in place on all racecourses.
Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of HRI, Denis Egan, chief executive of the IHRB, and Dr Lynn Hillyer, chief veterinary officer at the IHRB, also appeared again before the committee as all questions were not addressed at last Thursday’s initial session.
Hillyer returned to the subject of six horses sold from Ireland to the UK who were alleged to have traces of anabolic steroids, reiterating that after consultation with the British Horseracing Authority, the issue had been thoroughly investigated.
She said: “I can absolutely and categorically confirm that the six horses originally tested by the BHA were followed up with further testing involving three horses and that is one of the most extensive pieces of work I’ve ever seen – they went back some three years in terms of hair testing.
“They also undertook sampling unannounced, targeted, intelligence-led – proper stuff – sampling of horses related to those six horses on track over a number of months in England. It was only when that work was completed they were satisfied to say to us that they were happy there was no problem.”
Dr Clive Pearce, of LGC Laboratories in Newmarket which conducted the testing, added he “did not see anything in the way of prohibited at all times substances in all those samples taken”.
It was suggested a “ferocious flaw” in Irish racing is that there is no system to monitor or register horse movement outside of training, while reports from whistleblowers that investigating officers from the IHRB had been held or delayed at yards were also cited – an assertion refuted by Hillyer.
She said: “You’re completely right, we don’t have a movement database for horses as is present for cattle, but we would love one and we are working hard on that with other authorities.
“But right here right now, our way to deal with that is to do our homework properly so when we attend a yard, if we have concerns about animals moving, my officers are briefed to literally park behind the horse lorries and make sure they have gone onto the back gate.”
Kavanagh said racing “cannot be complacent” on the subject of drugs, adding the regulators are “determined to get to the bottom of this situation”, while Egan encouraged the committee to pass on any reports from whistleblowers.