Brexit talks hold up Irish regulator's access to stud farms for dope testing

It might not have happened yet and some still reckon it might never happen but the distraction of Brexit is one of the main contributing factors to a delay in the Irish regulator being granted authority to access unlicensed premises for the purpose of dope testing.

In January, a new industry-wide anti-doping policy came into force that saw stakeholders such as the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association (ITBA) and sales companies agree to recognise the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s authority to implement anti-doping procedures.

The IHRB, which received an extra €400,000 in funding from Horse Racing Ireland this year to bring its integrity pot to €9.5 million, oversaw the agreement of the out-of-competition testing protocol, which includes a 24-hour notice period for unlicensed premises.

Previously, the IHRB’s chief executive Denis Egan had stated that such testing would begin in the second half of 2019, after the new requirement for foals to be registered within 30 days of birth had bedded in.

However, the regulator’s veterinary officers, headed by Dr Lynn Hillyer, require a service level agreement (SLA) to be granted by the department of agriculture, as they currently don’t have jurisdiction over unlicensed premises such as stud farms or pre-training yards.

That process is taking longer than anticipated due to the fact that department officials are so preoccupied with planning for the many and various Brexit consequences for the country’s €14 billion agriculture sector.

“The rate limiting step is that we the veterinary officers need to be authorised by the department,” Hillyer explained to the Racing Post.

“We’ve had good discussions with ITBA about where we are with the protocols. There is a detailed protocol drawn up as to how the testing would be carried out, and we don’t have any concerns about that, but there are a few other things going on this year.

“We had the run-up to the March Brexit deadline and now the October deadline. Clearly the department has other priorities – and rightly so – but we're trying to keep the momentum going.”

Hillyer remains hopeful the process will begin in the coming months.

The regulator is also looking to acquire authority to deploy equine identification procedures on unlicensed premises, an ambition prompted by the challenges that Brexit may pose for the movement of horses, and following a number of welfare cases with horses whose racing careers had finished.

Lifetime traceability was a vital aspect of the anti-doping review, and Hillyer is keen to broaden the scope of the requested SLA to reflect that.

“The main bit of legislation that we were concerned with initially was the Animal Remedies Act,” she said.

“With the comings and goings on a European level, I’m suggesting it may be beneficial for a number of reasons if we have authorisation under the identification regulation." 

Of the process, she added: “The department must be confident and happy to grant us authorisation. We can’t assume that. A case needs to be made.

“The SLA has been drafted and we're on about the third or fourth iteration, but we would rather get it right.”

What has been confirmed is that as of January 1, any horse sold at Goffs and Tattersalls will be eligible to be tested at the buyer’s request.

Elective testing for a limited range of medicines is already available at Irish sales, but from the beginning of 2020 the IHRB will have the authority to undertake its gold standard procedure to test for all prohibited substances, including anabolic steroids.