TRAINER Kieran Cotter has been fined a total of €27,500 and ordered to pay €7,500 in legal costs by the Referrals Committee following a case involving a positive post-race test by one of his winners and a subsequent stableyard inspection.

Based in Portlarlington, Co Laois, Cotter and business partner Danny Murphy have enjoyed considerable success on the flat in recent seasons.

In January 2021 Cotter saddled Slade Runner to win a handicap at Dundalk Stadium. The horse subsequently tested positive for abnormally high levels of cobalt, a substance which is regulated in Ireland as a prohibited substance as it can affect performance.

During a subsequent unannounced inspection of Cotter’s yard, hair and blood samples were taken from all horses and while no results of concern were returned from any of the horses, a number of veterinary products were found in bottles, needles and syringes. “The substances identified in the used needles and syringes matched residues found in the bottles on the premises that were of concern, including cobalt, ketoprofen, caffeine, dexamethasone, hydrochlorthiazide, trichlormethiazide and medroxyprogesterone acetate.”

In relation to the positive post-race test returned by Slade Runner, Cotter told the Referrals Committee he had administered 20ml of the Complete Copper Cobalt Solution supplied by a local animal nutrition company by mouth to the horse on each of the two days prior to the raceday.

The Referrals Committee disqualified Slade Runner from first place and fined the trainer €2,500 in relation to that matter.

Turning their attention to the stableyard inspection, the Referrals Committee said it was “an extremely aggravating aspect of this case that no medicines register had been maintained for a number of years” by Cotter in respect of any of his horses, “notwithstanding that it is clear from the evidence presented that medicines were regularly administered to the horses in his care.”

Although the Committee did not find Cotter guilty of having prohibited substances in his possession, the Committee accepted the IHRB’s claims that Cotter had been administering veterinary medicines without veterinary oversight and that he had been “reckless” in giving “the cobalt drench to Slade Runner”.

Cotter was fined €20,000 for failing to maintain a medicines register and a further €5,000 for giving Slade Runner cobalt the day before the race. Costs of €7,500 were awarded to the IHRB against Cotter.

The trainer has the right to appeal.

The full text of the Referrals Committee judgement is reproduced below.

Kieran P. Cotter (Trainer) Prohibited Substance Referral – Dundalk 20th January 2021

The Referrals Committee, Mr. Justice Raymond Groarke (in the chair), Mr. Peter M. Allen, and Mr. Anthony Byrne convened at the Offices of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board on Monday 16th May 2022 to consider whether or not Mr. Kieran P. Cotter (Trainer) was in breach of any rules of racing as a result of a report received from LGC Laboratories, Newmarket, England and an Unannounced Inspection of Mr. Cotter’s premises on 3rd February 2021.

The report received from LGC Laboratories on 3rd February 2021 stated that the urine Sample taken from Slade Runner following his win in the first division of the Dundalk Stadium Handicap on 20th January 2021 at Dundalk Racecourse, was confirmed to contain cobalt at 119ng/ml, which exceeded the international threshold of 100ng/ml. Under Rule 20(v) and Regulation 14 of the Rules of Racing and Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Rules cobalt is a Prohibited Substance.

The option of ‘B’ sample analysis was requested by Mr. Cotter. This was confirmed by LCH Laboratories France as an adverse analytical finding for cobalt on 24th February 2021 with a concentration of 115ng/ml.

Evidence was heard from Mr. Cotter, Mr. Kieran Devlin, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) Veterinary Inspector, Investigations Division, Ms. Colleen Murphy, IHRB Senior Veterinary Assistant, Dr. Lynn Hillyer, IHRB Head of Anti-Doping and Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Vivian Gath, Lecturer/Assistant Professor of Nutrition at University College Dublin Veterinary School. The Committee also considered an IHRB investigation report and a written report from Professor Stuart Paine of the University of Nottingham.

In his evidence, Mr. Devlin explained that he had been accompanied by Ms. Melanie Farrer and Ms. Deirdre Fay, Authorised Officers in the DAFM Investigations Division acting under the Animal Remedies Act 1993 in an unannounced inspection of Mr. Cotter’s premises on 3rd February 2021. He stated that they inspected several different locations in the yard for the presence of animal remedies including the stable area, a store shed, a garage and the surrounding outside area which included the site of a recent bonfire. On each occasion when an animal remedy was located, he photographed it and made a note of the nature of the product and where it was located. Mr. Devlin stated that, in addition to finding burnt bottles of animal remedies on the bonfire site, other bottles, a number of used syringes and needles with residues, including blood traces, were seized.

In her evidence, Ms. Murphy outlined her role on the day of the inspection which was to assist in the operation and take samples from a number of horses.

In her evidence, Dr. Hillyer provided details of the extensive IHRB investigation which included various interviews of relevant witnesses, an unannounced inspection with DAFM on 3rd February 2021 and numerous analyses of samples taken from horses, used bottles and syringes seized on 3rd February and additional samples taken from horses of Mr. Cotter’s at Dundalk Racecourse on 5th and 12th February 2021.

Dr. Hillyer explained that cobalt is an essential micronutrient needed for vitamin B12 synthesis in the equine caecum and colon. Adult horses usually obtain sufficient cobalt from their diet to meet their daily demand. Supplemental cyanocobalamin, a synthetic form of vitamin B12, can be given, although from the evidence currently available, is only beneficial if there is vitamin B12 deficiency manifesting as weakness and megaloblastic anaemia. Such supplements are currently permitted for use in horses in training, but detailed advice has been published both by the IHRB and the IFHA relating to the necessity to leave enough time between their use and race day. Cobalt is regulated in horseracing in Ireland as a prohibited substance if present above thresholds in urine and/or plasma on race day because it is a substance capable at any time of causing an action or effect, or both an action and effect, within several mammalian body systems. Dr. Hillyer explained that during the unannounced inspection with Authorised Officers of the DAFM Investigations Division all horses on the premises were identified, inspected and sampled by the IHRB. The Medicines Register was also examined, which had not been maintained for a number of years.

During the inspection numerous products containing cobalt and/or Vitamin B12 were identified. The burnt and other bottles, used needles and syringes seized by the DAFM were submitted by the IHRB under secure chain of custody for analysis at LGC laboratories. Hair and blood were taken from all horses and while no results of concern were returned from any of the horses, the substances identified in the used needles and syringes matched residues found in the bottles on the premises that were of concern, including cobalt, ketoprofen, caffeine, dexamethasone, hydrochlorthiazide, trichlormethiazide and medroxyprogesterone acetate.

She noted the irresponsible manner in which an attempt had been made to dispose of intact glass bottles on a bonfire directly adjacent to the horse walker/main barn, with the consequent risk of their explosion, and the presence of numerous used needles and syringes lying around in an area directly accessible by Mr Cotter’s family was of very grave concern.

In his evidence, Mr. Cotter said that he had been involved in horse racing since he was 18 and with the exception of a short break from the sport he has been in it ever since with an unblemished record. He stated that he wouldn’t allow anything untoward to happen on his yard. He accepted that there were matters arising from the inspection which he realised he needed to prioritise, such as the maintaining of his Medicines Register, the disposal of used syringes and the locking of the Medicines Cabinet, but that he held his hands up in each regard. In relation to the adverse analytical finding of Slade Runner following his win at Dundalk, Mr. Cotter explained that he had sought the advice of a representative of Natural Nutrition LTD about Slade Runner’s ill thrift. It was suggested that he had a copper deficiency. Mr. Cotter said that he subsequently administered 20ml of the Complete Copper Cobalt Solution supplied by Natural Nutrition LTD by mouth to the horse on each of the two days prior to the raceday.

In relation to the operational activity at the yard, Mr. Cotter said that the majority of the work was carried out by himself and Mr. Danny Murphy. He explained that approximately four years ago he linked up with Mr. Murphy who had international experience training horses and they formed a partnership. Mr. Cotter said that Mr. Murphy introduced him to some Australian training methods and was able to attract new owners and investment into the training establishment which was a positive move as prior to this he was training ‘Third Division’ horses. Mr. Cotter added that they had formed a business a couple of years ago and it was a 50-50 partnership and there was a trust between the pair. In relation to the fire, Mr. Cotter admitted that it was a bonfire which they had used to burn waste and nutbags over the course of a number of months. He said that the bottles found in the bonfire had been in a bag which belonged to his father and had been left in the boiler house when his father had moved house and about six months prior to the inspection he had burned the contents of this bag without taking much notice of the contents.

In his evidence, Mr. Gath provided a background to his qualifications in the field of animal nutrition. He advocated that the concentration of cobalt found in the sample was so low as to be irrelevant and that the International Threshold was outdated because in his view cobalt was not something to be overly concerned about. He offered no views as to the other animal remedies involved in the case.

Having considered the evidence, Justice Groarke advised of the decision of the Referrals Committee as summarised below:

They noted that the referral arose from a race that took place at Dundalk on the 20th January 2021. The result of the sample taken from Slade Runner was that he was measured as having a level of cobalt in excess of the threshold of 100ng/ml and as part of the investigation there was a joint inspection with the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) and officers of the IHRB who attended at Mr. Cotter’s premises on 3rd February 2021.

As a result of both the adverse analytical finding for cobalt in the sample and the findings of the inspection on the 3rd February 2021, a number of charges had been laid against Mr. Cotter by the IHRB for consideration of the Referrals Committee.

In relation to Rule 96(a) the Committee found Mr. Cotter to be in breach of this rule and made an order disqualifying the winner, Slade Runner, from first place, the result to be amended accordingly and that both the stake and prize money be forfeited. The Committee imposed a fine of €2,500 in respect of that matter.

In respect of the inspection of 3rd February 2021 and the matters arising from that they noted that there are a number of charges laid against Mr. Cotter. They confirmed that they were satisfied that Mr. Cotter has been in breach of a number of the provisions under Rule 148.

They noted that it was an extremely aggravating aspect of this case that no Medicines Register had been maintained for a number of years prior to February 2021 by Mr. Cotter, either in respect of this particular horse, Slade Runner, or in respect of any other horse in his care. Notwithstanding that it is clear from the evidence presented that medicines were regularly administered to the horses in his care.

The Referrals Committee stated that in their view the evidence in regard to the Medicines Register established beyond all reasonable doubt, not just on the balance of probabilities, that the duties and obligations placed on Mr. Cotter have been entirely ignored by him and was clear evidence of the attitude taken by Mr. Cotter in respect of the use of medicines. They noted that the IHRB had raised a number of complaints which they found substantiated and listed the following as a selection of those matters;

• used syringes and needles were left lying in a number of locations in the premises which Mr. Cotter stated he was not aware they were there and didn’t know where they came from and he said he never used them.

• The presence also of a large number of unused syringes and needles in the barn.

• The apparent general use of veterinary medicines, other than under veterinary supervision which suggested that Mr. Cotter was self-medicating some of the horses in his care.

• The administration via intravenous injection of medicines without veterinary oversight, contrary to proper procedures.

• Reckless disregard to the potential effects or consequences to administering the cobalt drench to Slade Runner in particular.

The Referrals Committee did not find Mr. Cotter in breach of the rules for a possession of illegal substances in his yard and did not find Mr. Cotter in breach of Rule 273(xiii) but noted that the conduct was that of a serious nature.

They imposed a fine of €5,000 in respect of a breach of Rule 148(i) in that the Trainer is responsible for everything connected with the welfare, training and running of all Horses under the care of that Trainer and that Slade Runner had been administered cobalt the day before the race. Furthermore, they imposed a fine of €20,000 in respect of a breach of Rule 148(iii) in that he had failed to maintain his Medicines Register, failed to ensure that he and each of his staff having access to medicines were fully conversant with the rules and regulations relating to Prohibited Substances and that he had failed to be responsible for the safe keeping and administration of medicines having failed to securely lock the medicines cabinet. Costs of €7,500 were awarded to the IHRB against Mr Cotter.

The amended result of the The Dundalk Stadium Handicap (Div I) at Dundalk on 20th January 2021 now reads:

First: Annabelle Rock

Second: Red Cymbal (GB)

Third: Farnese (GB)

Fourth: Tynamite

Fifth: All About Ivy

Sixth: Ahunderdnotout (GB)

The case was presented by Mr. Louis Weston, Barrister, instructed by Ms. Béibhinn Murphy BL and Ms. Cliodhna Guy, IHRB Head of Legal, Licensing & Compliance. Mr. Cotter was represented by Mr. Frank Quirke, Barrister, instructed by Anne Fitzpatrick of Anne M. Fitzpatrick & Co Solicitors, Thurles.