Vincent Finegan

Vincent Finegan

Smoking Gun

St Mark's Basilica winning the Eclipse Stakes on Saturday
© Photo Healy Racing

On legal advice Jim Bolger will not take part in this week’s Oireachtas Hearing into the trainer’s own allegations that there is a ‘Lance Armstrong’ waiting to be found among the upper echelons of Ireland’s training ranks.

It initially seemed like a poor move on Jim Bolger’s part as the hearing offered him the opportunity to further expose ‘twenty years of steroid abuse within the sport.’ This platform could have been the ideal vehicle for him once he didn’t fall into the trap of naming any names.

But, in light of yesterday’s latest Paul Kimmage article, it’s now becoming clearer that Bolger’s absence is likely a prudent move.

Kimmage’s Sunday Independent piece gives us the first glimpse of the ‘smoking gun’ — extracts from a 14-page report from a ‘distinguished toxicologist’ in a laboratory in Suffolk that indicates suspicious findings in hair samples taken from a group of horses that had recently transferred from Ireland to an English trainer.

Kimmage’s information comes via a conversation Bolger had with the English trainer who commissioned the testing of the ex-Irish horses in his care.

According to extracts from the toxicologist’s report published yesterday there is no hard evidence of wrongdoing but a ‘balance of probability’ that ‘unidentified possible keto steroids’ were present in some of the samples from the six horses tested.

These results alone appear to fall some way short of the threshold for a racing authority to take action against any individual but it would seem that we are getting tantalisingly close to the discovery of the name or names that Bolger has been trying to avoid revealing.

We are told that the six horses in question travelled from Ireland to an English trainer in the summer of 2020. Bolger has stated that the steroid issue he perceives within the sport relates to at least one top-level Irish trainer so we can presume that these six horses were in training here prior to their move and it is therefore likely that at least some of them had won races in Ireland prior to the move.

The IHRB issued a report on Friday into their anti-doping efforts so far this year and this will presumably form the basis of their contribution to the Oireachtas Hearing.

In the first six month of 2021 they carried out 2,391 hair, blood and urine samples on horses at racecourses, point-to-points and in out of competition settings such as trainers’ yards, stud farms, sales consignors’ premises, pre-training premises and other equine premises.

Included in the samples tested is every winner of a race in Ireland this year.

In total they found 10 adverse analytic findings, none of which we are told were substances that are prohibited at all times, such as performance enhancing steroids. Coincidently the IHRB samples are also tested in a laboratory in Suffolk.

Bolger’s assertion that steroids are being used by one or more top trainers to improve the performance of their horses is at loggerheads with the IHRB data.

We therefore end up with a paradox — either there is no wide scale steroid abuse within the sport as the IHRB findings indicate or the systems for detection are not fit for purpose and cannot actually detect the steroids in the samples which forms part of Bolger’s hypothesis.

A single positive result for anabolic steroids within the IHRB findings would have gone some way towards dispelling Bolger’s theory but the IHRB found none.

It is also worth pointing out that of the 1,398 races run in Ireland in the first six months of 2021 only 71 hair samples were taken from winners. The hair test seems the most likely one to discover steroid traces in samples so why is it not the default test?

In life, as in sport, timing is everything which begs the question why has IHRB chief Denis Egan decided to announce his early retirement at this moment in time?

Egan has been the face of the Turf Club, and more recently the IHRB, for over 20 years.

He announced last week that he is to quit this key role within the industry at the end of September, coincidently the same day Brian Kavanagh exits HRI, meaning that the two top jobs of regulating horse racing in Ireland will have new personnel at the helm at the very same time.

With the Bolger allegations still unresolved it may not be the most opportune time for such fundamental change. That said, a couple of new brooms might just be what’s needed, though there is always the suspicion that any new brooms within horse racing will be of the Trigger variety — same broom just a different handle or a different head.

Lastly, in St Mark’s Basilica Aidan O’Brien may have finally found the horse to match the superlatives. “He’s always looked a special horse” is a phrase that the master of Ballydoyle has used to describe countless colts down the years but it’s beginning to look like this could be the one that fits the hype. Four Group 1s on the bounce and getting better with every race he really could be the best Aidan has ever trained.

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