Ireland: Hay, Oats and…Say What?

by | 10.15.2013 | 12:43pm
The case began when Irish customs officials opened a package from Australia that contained a banned steroid

I was stunned upon hearing the recent news out of Ireland that a former Department of Agriculture veterinary inspector – the brother of a well-known trainer – pleaded guilty to five counts of possessing imported drugs that are illegal for use in racehorses.

Coming on the heels of the steroids scandal in England involving fired Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni, it appears that the holier than thou image of drug-free racing in England and Ireland may be nothing more than a mirage. Hay, oats, and water, indeed.

This recently reported scandal goes back to February 2012, when Customs officials at Dublin Airport in Ireland opened a package shipped from Australia containing the banned drug Nitrotain, the same steroid used by Al Zarooni.

According to the Irish Independent, officials decided to put the package under surveillance and hours later raided the home of John Hughes, its intended recipient. Hughes, a retired veterinarian, is the brother of Irish trainer Pat Hughes. At his home, officials reportedly found a significant supply of medication, including as many as 1,500 doses of Nitrotain, along with documents said to list names and contact information of various horse trainers.

The case came to light when Hughes reportedly pleaded guilty on Oct. 3 to possession of the following unauthorized medications: Nitrotain, Detomovet, Thiazine, Omoguard Paste and Pentosan Gold and Halo. Published reports said he was required to pay court costs plus a 10,000 euros donation to the Kilkenny Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The case was continued until Dec. 5.

Nitrotain, according to its Australian distributor, is a “potent, short- acting oral anabolic steroid with very low potential for adverse side effect, and a short withdrawal time.” In 2011, the Paulick Report wrote about Nitrotain making its way into the U.S., suggesting it is difficult to detect in post-race testing if withdrawn a few days prior to competition. Other anabolic steroids have a much longer withdrawal time.

The Irish Turf Club, in a statement from chief executive Denis Egan published at, said it has “no evidence of steroids being used here. That doesn't mean there are, or aren't steroids being used, but that we have no evidence.”

Egan said over 3,000 test samples were taken in 2012, both out of competition and post-race, and no steroids were detected.

“And we don't know what these drugs were for,” Egan was quoted as saying about the Hughes case, “whether they were for use on horses, or cattle.”

Stay tuned. Something tells me this story isn't going away, though I'll bet the Irish Turf Club wishes it would.

  • betterthannothing

    Jockeys and others have be caught fixing races, so that some may use drugs to fix races would not be that surprising.

  • Countfleet43

    How about if all horses were tested the day that they are entered to race. Before their race, not after….More cheaters may be caught

    • turffan

      I’ve send this before & agree with you. All horses should have blood drawn, pre-Lasix. Not just for detection prior to dilution, but also in the event of DQ’s 3rd on down could be tested before redistributing the purse. Of course not all samples would need to be tested but commissions would have the option if anything out of the ordinary surfaced. I for one do believe that Lasix( in doses below 5cc does help reduce the occurrence of minor bleeding that can wreak havoc). Any horse needing more than 5cc should not be racing and it does cause dehydration, this is what I have personally observed with horses I have owned and trained. 99% of whats being used as pre-race has no business being used in FIT, HEALTHY & HAPPY horses.

      • Bein

        Dilution by Lasix? Explain how that happens. Also, what method are you using to diagnose dehydration?

        • Beach

          I’m not sure what turffan means by “dilution”; and he/she would have to speak to whichever diagnostic tools he/she is using. But re: dehydration, it makes perfect sense that Lasix for this purpose dehydrates the animal. albeit in a “dose-related” way. Frankly, it would be like giving ME Lasix, even though I am smaller and my metabolism is different. But, I have normal kidney and heart function, as far as I know, so thus you wouldn’t be trying to do something like pull the EXTRA fluid off my lungs if I was in, say, congestive heart failure. It stands to reason that if you give Lasix to any animal with a normal physiology, you’re going to dehydrate him/her. It’s why some of these horses experience significant weight loss with Lasix; that’s probably all “fluid weight”. And, I’d bet it’s a vicious cycle–you’re also going to make the animal, most likely, feel like crap, and then he/she may not want to eat or drink for a while. Hence it may also set one up for IV replacement fluids. Not a fun deal by any means; I’m in the camp, I believe, with those who think that “heavy bleeders” should not be racing in the first place.

  • Richard C

    Holding a license in any racing jurisdiction is a privilege…..hence, a zero tolerance policy (one and done) would start making the plan of ripping up the rule’s book a disincentive – simply, a punch in the mouth is more effective than a tap on the wrist.

    • Bein

      Zero tolerance rules and regulations in every facet of life are stupid. Humans have brains. Why rule out using them?

  • Jay Stone

    Put Inspector Clouseau on the case. He will get to the bottom of it. If he is not available I’m sure one of Maktoum’s wives has some time available when she’s not doing laundry.

  • Patricia Jones

    culture of the corrupt suppose to be on way out it just may take a little time but the bricks are starting to fall

  • 14151617

    Go get’um Ray.

  • Barry Irwin

    Regardless of the jurisdiction, the best answer to the issue of illegal drug possession and use is expulsion from the game and jail time. Monetary fines do not deter.

    • Beach

      Neither do, IMHO, wimpy slaps on the wrist in the form of ~ 1-3 month suspensions.

    • SnarkyEyeCanB

      Kicking The Can Down The Road. NOTHING will ever change in drug regulation unless the Federal Government passes legislation. The state legislatures and racing authorities can not withstand the onslaught of lobbying and the money those lobbyist have to throw around to pass anything substantive. The horse business is one of the most clannish and insidious businesses I’ve ever participated in. You are a breath of fresh air. Hope that keeps the discussion alive.

      • Thomas

        Federal Government, Yes, Yes.

        Just what we need, Obama Veterinary Care Act (OBCA).

        Written by people that don’t know the difference between a colt and gelding, or know which end of the horse eats, nor have ever even been to the horse races.

        We must pass the Obama Veterinary Care Act (OBCA) so we can find what is in it.

        • circusticket

          If you don’t like the current administration, we can wait until the next election. There will automatically be less obstruction.

        • SnarkyEyeCanB

          Don’t worry…there won’t be much horse racing left in the U. S. in the next 20 years or so to worry about. People glaze over at the sport to begin with. Professional gamblers, who made up much of the handle in the hey day of the big mutual days, ignore it, because of the arithmetically impossible to beat take outs, AND needle trainers.

          Oh, and don’t worry as well; some nurse will be changing your diaper and wiping away your angry drool, in some tucked away nursing facility some day, when you have your angry, premature, hate fueled stroke, thanks to Obama Care.

      • Lexington 3

        Ireland is not part of the United States.

    • Roisin

      You are so right. It is absolutely disgusting. How are the few honorable trainers/owners going to compete in such a drug culture. All the decent people will be driven out of racing.
      The only reason this has come to light is because the drugs were found by an outside interest and not anyone involved in racing. And yes Mr. Egan, chief executive of the Irish Turf Club, “we don’t know what these drugs were for”. Given the choice between horses or cattle, my bet is a no brainer since the recipient is retired vet. and his brother trains Thoroughbreds !

    • Charles Smith

      I agee 100%. If these punishments were in play, the Cibelli’s, Navarro’s and O’Neill’s of the racing world would have a lot to think about.

      • Barry Irwin

        Yes, they would have lots of time to hone their skills at socially acceptable games such as Whist and Cribbage. But I wouldn’t let him flip baseball cards, because there are too many things fingernails can do to alter the aerodynamics of the flight of the card.

    • Fred A. Pope

      It seems the only jurisdiction with an effective drug program is the one where horses and jockeys are isolated. That same jurisdiction has the highest handle and purse structure because the bettors believe the races have integrity.

      So, do you want the freedom of open access to participants, or a sport with integrity and high bettor interest? Now that Europe and Australia seem to have feet of clay, it seems the threat of exposure and punishment isn’t working.

      If you want to control integrity, then have total control over the participants. If only a small number of participants agree to compete under those controls, then package and present that brand in the marketplace and see if it sells.

      We have 50,000 horses here and 100 tracks. If a group of racehorse owners want to compete apples to apples there will be a facility willing to give it a go. Who wants to lead and bring real integrity to the U.S.?

      • betterthannothing

        Really! When will honest and caring horsemen finally split from toxic, abusive racing, if anything to have an even chance to win and have fun, save the breed and the sport and attract handicappers who want to handicap horses not who got the latest and best juice?

    • shiekyurbootie

      So what you are saying is throw out shiek mo ?

      • Barry Irwin

        No, that’s what you are saying.

        Based on your infantile anonymous name, I guess you get a pretty big kick out of your sense of humor. You are a poster child for exactly what is wrong with anonymous posting.

  • Cory Patton

    The powers that be need to focus on catching the cheats in all jurisdictions.

  • Beach

    “Egan said over 3,000 test samples were taken in 2012, both out of competition and post-race, and no steroids were detected.”

    Which means they know how to beat the rap, or the powers-that-be are testing when the possible “perps” know they’re going to be testing. Might be time to go to random testing for “X” drugs, and the penalties stick, regardless of when the tests were/are done.

    In health care(and by that I also include veterinary care), oaths like “first do no harm”, etc. apply whether or not a health care “type” is “active” or “retired”. I would like to see these people remember they are veterinarians/doctors–not “dealers”.

    • Sue M. Chapman

      The Elisa (?) is the definitive blood test available to detect foreign substances. It flags that something is in the blood that should not be there, but cannot identify the unknown substance.

    • Mimi Hunter

      Has anyone ever tried testing the hair for out of competition levels ?

  • Sue M. Chapman

    Pre Race Blood Testing was done in New York. There were no positives and it was cost prohibitive. There has always been post race blood and urine collected in the test barn. I’m unaware of any questions of impropriety.

  • Dcurtis

    Where are all the people who , not so long ago , we’re saying how pure racing is overseas ?

    • Big Red

      they are busy giving their horses Lasix

    • G. Rarick

      Whenever money and horses collide, people will cheat, be it in Europe, the United States, Dubai or wherever. The fact that in Europe no medication is allowed in the horse’s system on race day, and the fact that out-of-competition is quite active, make it easier to catch and prosecute those who cheat, and the penalties in Europe are generally far more severe than in America. No one ever said we’re all without sin in Europe. We just make it harder – and riskier – for those who decide to cheat.

  • Martin Pennington

    UK and Irish government have no interest in racing rules and regulations. Important people understand the difference between “banned” and “illegal” for a start. Sadly most people either in racing or outside of racing fail to distinguish between the two.

    Zero tolerance to any drugs is the way forward – lasix, bute, AI’s, anabolic steroids, THG and anything else you can think of . WADA have it right – mandatory 2 year ban for any failed test, “I didn’t know” is no defense.

    Worth looking up the case of Nicky Henderson here in the UK (he trains for the Queen and one of her’s failed a dope test) and Al Zarooni (trained for Sheikh Mohammed – who’s a Jockey Club member with the BHA being financed by the Jockey Club). Rest assured if either of those had been a small trainer with 3 or 4 horses they’d have been hung out to dry.

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