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Report wrote about Nitrotain making its way into the U.S., suggesting it is difficult to detect in post-race testing if withdrawn a few days prior to competition.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 IrishTimes.com, 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.
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