THIS was a year that had some really magical moments and ones that will stand any test of time. Rachael Blackmore’s Grand National triumph, Tiger Roll’s improbable return to form at Cheltenham and State Of Rest’s marvelous globetrotting efforts are just a few that spring to mind.
However, as 2021 draws to a close racing feels like a sport that is fighting a desperate rear guard action after dealing with a series of body blows throughout the year. Last January’s conclusions concerning the Viking Hoard case and the resulting six-month suspension of Charles Byrnes’ licence seemed seismic.
The following month the sport, and more specifically Gordon Elliott, had to deal with the consequences of that notorious picture which resulted in one of Irish jumps racing’s most celebrated trainers having his licence suspended for six months as well as being hit with a €15,000 fine. However, by the time the dust was settling on Aintree’s Grand National little over a month later much of the furore surrounding this episode was subsiding.
By some distance though the worst was yet to come and the fallout from Jim Bolger’s explosive Sunday Independent interview with Paul Kimmage continues to run and run.
The trainer’s assertion that there would be a Lance Armstrong in Irish racing produced a reaction of seismic proportions.
The following month the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee held a hearing in July to discuss allegations of doping within Irish racing. Bolger’s remarks left the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Body facing untold pressure and scrutiny and the sport in Ireland has found itself fighting these claims ever since.
Bolger’s comments have in turn seen speculation, rumours and various theories run riot and these arguably reached their zenith with the discovery of unauthorised medicines at a stud farm in Monasterevin last month.
Without trying to come across as flippant, some of the information that followed this raid has been the stuff of a Dick Francis novel. There has been repeated speculation that the premises in question was staked out by a private investigator hired by a trainer(s) in Britain who believe that performance enhancing drugs are being used in Irish racing.
The inspection of the Monasterevin farm centered on a clinic held by well known equine therapist John Warwick who subsequently revealed to this paper that the unauthorised medicines found in his possession were bound for Kuwait and that they should not have come into Ireland.
It could be many months before the conclusions from this particular inspection becomes known but in the meantime another information vacuum has been created and this in turn has given rise to huge amounts of speculation and rumour.
So as the year draws to a close the reputational crisis caused by Jim Bolger’s comments lingers on and the reality is that Irish racing feels like a sport under siege. Despite the fact that there has been very little in the way of fact to accompany the Coolcullen trainer’s claims everything now is viewed through the prism of those claims which has made for a very trying time for the sport as a whole.