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Dublin: 11 °C Monday 6 July, 2020

Johnny Ward: Hogan can continue promising career with reputation intact despite positive test

The Tipperary-based trainer escaped any penalties after a vet accepted responsibility for Turbine being administered an anabolic steroid.

Trainer Denis Hogan.
Trainer Denis Hogan.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

ASK ANYONE WHO follows Irish racing regularly about drugs and you’ll meet a similar refrain: plenty of trainers are getting away with it.

We may not be at the septic levels of, say, cycling but there is absolutely no doubt but that trainers, desperate to gain an edge in a seriously tough environment, are seeking same and hoping not to be caught.

In 2014, trainer Philip Fenton was disqualified from holding a trainer’s licence for three years at a hearing of the Turf Club’s Referrals Committee. He had been found guilty in the district court of eight charges of possessing banned animal medicines, including anabolic steroids.

Fenton served his time and has returned to training.

Around the same time, John Hughes, a retired vet, was banned from racing for five years and fined €4,500 after the Turf Club ‘clearly established’ that Hughes was in possession of 6kg of the powerful anabolic steroid Nitrotain when his home was raided by police and customs officials in February 2012.

Nitrotain is fast-acting, builds muscle mass and improves a horse’s strength, stamina and general wellbeing. According to The Guardian, it is easily administered as an oral paste and excreted in no more than a few days, making it virtually impossible to detect in post-race tests.

It has never been clarified what the disgraced Hughes planned to do with such a large quantity of dope. Yet no horses were being found under the influence of steroids in Ireland, unlike in pretty much every other racing jurisdiction.

Just over a year ago, trainer John ‘Shark’ Hanlon was given a suspended 18-month sentence of his licence after Galway Festival winner Camlann tested positive for elevated levels of cobalt.

On the same day, Gordon Elliott was fined €1,000 after Timiyan was disqualified from first place in the Midlands National at Kilbeggan, having tested positive for the anti-inflammatory triamcinolone acetoinide, while Kisanga, trained by Dermot Weld, was disqualified from a Curragh win in June after testing positive for testosterone.

Weld and Elliott were effectively exonerated, thankfully. Hanlon’s case was serious, and one of several worrying cases regarding cobalt which cropped up since the Turf Club started tackling that specific problem last summer, producing less than satisfactory punishments on occasion.

The Turbine case is alarming, even if we are obliged to accept the evidence of the relevant parties. The Denis Hogan-trained horse has been banned from racing until the end of March next year, and disqualified from a victory in Cork in May — the first time a race horse has tested positive for an anabolic steroid in Ireland.

Hogan avoided punishment on pretty straightforward grounds as a vet, Donnacha Houlihan, had Turbine in his care for a wind operation in January and took responsibility for the horse being administered a substance containing Nandrolone.

Evoking memories of Withnail and I, Houlihan told the Turf Club that he had administered the steroid by mistake. Turbine ran twice in May, including when winning at Cork, and tested positive for Nandrolone after both races.

Blood and hair samples were taken in an out of competition test on Turbine on 30 May and were positive. Tellingly, the same tests were carried out on five other horses at Hogan’s yard at the same time and they were negative.

The Turf Club is now the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board and its chief veterinary officer, Dr Lynn Hillyer, confirmed that Nandrolone is prohibited at all times and that no explanation was offered for the findings on the day of the unannounced testing.

She was contacted the day following the inspection by Donnacha Houlihan, Hogan’s vet, who offered a possible reason for the Nandrolone finding: he had been given it erroneously.

For Hogan, this must have been an extremely worrying time, and he can now continue his hugely promising training career with his reputation intact.

It seems next to impossible that Turbine is the only horse to have raced on steroids in Ireland. In a truly Irish turn of events, it was a false positive test for anabolic steroids which compelled to IHRB to end its association wiith BHP Laboratories at a cost of around €500,000 in February 2018.

It then began using the LGC’s Newmarket lab and the rate of positives went up by 440 per cent to 27 in 2018 (for all sorts of substances).

The British authorities, who have been looking ever deeper into Irish horses winning across the Irish Sea, will be monitoring the Turbine case closely. The BHA has its eyes on a handful of Irish trainers particularly right now, with the suggestion it may even ban certain trainers from having runners in Britain.

That may not come to pass but what happened this week was reassuring. At the very least, what proves that the testing techniques deployed by the IHRB are fit for purpose.

And if, one might argue, leniency is the prevailing theme at these referral hearings, no trainer seeks any suggestion of wrongdoing and the Turbine episode will have overwhelmingly positive connotations going forward.

We struck with another nice-price winner last weekend with Sinawann. As much as Blacklooks will be very hard to beat in the Curragh’s 7.20 (Curragh Celebrating The Rose Of Tralee Apprentice Handicap) this evening, the 16/1 Betway offers about Massa Lubrense looks more than fair each-way.

And the week may end well for Denis Hogan, Conversant interesting at a price over Cork’s straight seven furlongs in Sunday’s Matchbook Straight Seven Handicap (4.20).

Conversant means to be ‘familiar with or knowledgeable about something’. Hopefully, from here on, Irish punters will be more aware than ever before of drug-use in Irish racing. 

Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey and Bernard Jackman try to identify how Ireland can get back on track after Twickenham.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Johnny Ward

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