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Brian O'Connor

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26,474 people attended the weekend's action at Leopardstown, up 2,218 on last year26,474 people attended the weekend's action at Leopardstown, up 2,218 on last year
© Photo Healy Racing

David Dunne could be the answer to a potential future quiz question about which trainer saddled a 100-1 winner two days before having his licence suspended. Dunne starts a four month suspension in March on the back an Appeals body decision last week. It appears to be the end of the saga of how his charge, Druim Samhraidh, tested positive for an anabolic steroid after winning at Ballinrobe in August. But questions surely remain around how this endgame was reached.

Ultimately it appears that Dunne - who saddled Department Of War to win at 100-1 in Down Royal on Tuesday - might have been hoist with his own petard.

In November a Referrals panel chaired by Mr Justice Tony Hunt examined the Druim Samhraidh case, banned the horse from racing for 14 months and fined his trainer €2,000. They added another €1,000 in costs. This was after Dunne offered no explanation for how the horse had Boldenone in his system other than to suggest he may have been first exposed to the substance prior to him getting the horse to train.

Considering Irish racing's recent history in relation to anabolic steroids, and the consequently reinforced zero-tolerance position adopted by the authorities here, it appeared a notably lenient decision. The seriousness of any offence involving anabolic steroids can hardly be exaggerated. They cut to the heart of the industry's credibility.

There's been a lot of tough talk about stamping down on drugs and by the book it is every trainer's responsibility to ensure such offences don't occur. That book is supposed to be thrown at any offender unless extenuating circumstances apply.

When Turbine became the first horse to test positive for an anabolic steroid last year his trainer Denis Hogan presented extensive evidence that included how a vet who had treated the horse accepted full responsibility for what may have been an error in administering a substance containing Nandrolone.

No such mitigating circumstances appeared to arise with Druim Samhraidh. Yet the Referrals panel merely fined the horse's trainer when many anticipated a suspension of some sort would have to be applied. And that, it seems, would have been that, had not Dunne appealed the severity of the financial penalties.

That appeal was heard at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Blanchardstown Centre on Thursday. Dunne's solicitor accepted the seriousness of the case but stated the appeal was based on the financial situation of his client and appealed for leniency of the fine. Sure enough the Appeals body chaired by Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds halved his fine. Then they suspended his licence for four months.

Considering the seriousness of the matter it could be argued that isn't harsh. Dunne is the first trainer to be suspended by Ireland's racing authorities since 2015 when Galway based Ger Lynch lost his licence for three months after falsifying vaccination paperwork. In 2017 a three year ban imposed by the British authorities on the Co. Armagh licensee Stephen McConville was reciprocated.

The suspicion remains though that the entire matter might simply have been forgotten about had not Dunne himself opted to reopen it.

Ultimately the final decision looks appropriate but the process of how it was reached is worth examining. For the authorities to be seen to mean what they say about tackling the drugs problem, then the original Referrals panel verdict didn't convince. Rather it now looks like a lackadaisical slap on the wrist that might well have wound up being the end of the matter had not Dunne himself brought it all up again.

Onto other things and how Irish racing has always been politic. Compared to Britain a certain pragmatic flexibility has always applied. It usually manifests itself in terms of cancelled fixtures being quickly reorganised or rearranged although TV restrictions now complicate that. Such judiciousness however looked to be notably absent from preparing the ground for the Dublin Racing Festival.

Given the circumstances of the 2019 debacle, when 22 horses were taken out of the second leg of Irish jump racing' showpiece event because of the going, and how watering on the chase track began almost two weeks beforehand, it was remarkable how the issue of ground conditions arose again during Saturday's action.

Yes 'good' didn't feature on the official going description which was the stated aim of Leopardstown's authorities. Instead it was 'yielding' which is what those in charge at Punchestown aim for at their festival in the Spring. That Irish 'yielding' is also roughly equivalent to the 'good to soft' Cheltenham target when forced to water.

But theoretical arguments about the precise definitions of an essentially subjective topic are one thing. Operating in the real racing world is another, something one might have imagined would have been to the forefront of considerations at a Horse Racing Ireland owned track. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. The prudent thing to do was surely to err on the side of too much water than too little, given a lot of the top horses on show are only starting their big race campaigns now.

On Saturday a lot of people were stunned the ground had been allowed to be an issue again. It was in Leopardstown's hands to make sure that didn't happen. They failed to do that.

Maybe that was due to a fear of overwatering. Maybe it was a reflex reaction to figures such as Willie Mullins and Gigginstown's Eddie O'Leary telling them what to do. It might even have been down to using an inadequate going stick. But whatever the reason the politic thing to have done was surely to have wound up being accused of putting too much on rather than too little.

Sure enough the message seemed to get through for Day Two. O'Leary went out of his way to praise Leopardstown for getting it right on Sunday while also posing the obvious query as to why that hadn't been the case a day earlier. It all smacked of an easily avoidable self-inflicted PR injury that needlessly deflected from an otherwise successful weekend's action on many levels.

The nation goes to the polls this Saturday and the potential exists for the political landscape to shift significantly on the back of it. Whatever formation any new government eventually takes, the one sure thing is that it will see a coalition of some sort. That raises the prospect of a number of smaller parties exerting power which has implications for racing's little parish.

If you doubt that then examine the Labour party's desire to ring-fence part of the betting levy to fund animal welfare inspectors and ensure best practise in animal sports, an idea hard to argue with in principle but which will probably have more than a few racing teeth on edge. Even more might grind on Labour's proposal for an eighth of the betting tax be allocated to a new football fund.

It basically proposes a link between funding for sports in relation to the amount of betting turnover they generate. The prospect of some algorithm that would perform such a function eventually arising has been outlined here before. But this tangible evidence of a party querying racing's presumption that betting revenue is automatically on its financial patch should serve as a wake- up call.