The anabolic steroid crisis which threatens to engulf Irish jump racing on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival appeared to deepen on Tuesday when it emerged that a second trainer, Pat Hughes, appeared in Carlow District Court on Feb 13 on eight charges of possession of banned animal remedies, including the anabolic steroid Stanozol. The case was adjourned until May 8.
Like Philip Fenton, the trainer of Gold Cup hope Last Instalment who will appear at Carrick-on-Suir District Court tomorrow on eight charges, which include the possession of anabolic steroids, the case is being brought by the Ministry of Agriculture, who paid a visit to Hughes’ Bagnelstown yard on Feb 2 2012.
Hughes, who in 1985, sent out Antarctic Bay to win the RSA Chase at Cheltenham and Time Machine to win the Wokingham at Royal Ascot, and more recently landed the 2006 Irish Grand National with Point Barrow, is due back in the district court on May 8 after the case was adjourned.
When contacted, Hughes said: “They have nothing to go on. I don’t know whether they’ve called it off completely or not.”
Denis Egan, the chief executive of the Irish Turf Club, said: “We are aware that Pat Hughes has appeared in court. It is on our radar.”
Asked if the Fenton case had moved on since Monday, Egan said: “Now that we know that steroids are involved it could be very serious if he is found guilty.”
In October 2013, former Ministry of Agriculture veterinary inspector John Hughes, brother of the trainer, pleaded guilty to five charges of being in possession of unlicensed animal substances, including anabolic steroids. However. the case was dismissed ‘on its merits’, That case originated when customs at Dublin intercepted a parcel bound for Hughes from Australia in 2012.
The vet is currently the subject of an investigation by the Irish Turf Club, who confirmed they had spoken to him once already and could do so again as the inquiry progresses. They were also trying to get a copy of a list of trainers purportedly recovered in the Ministry of Agriculture search of his premises.
Fenton received a welcome boost ahead of his hearing when Eddie O’Leary, racing manager to his brother Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud operation, owner of Gold Cup hope Last Instalment offered his unqualified support describing it as “an absolute storm in a teacup.
“I spoke to Philip on Monday and he’s more embarrassed than anything else. We should remember that this all happened two and a half years ago. We support Philip wholeheartedly. You could not meet a straighter, and more honest, fellow. I’m sure he’ll be fine. This is bureaucracy gone mad, jobs for the boys. It’s the department [of Agriculture, Food and the Marine] trying to make work for themselves by wanting proper labels on every single bottle in every yard.
“Horses cannot be looked after nine to five. If a horse gets colic, you sometimes have to treat it yourself or it could be dead by the time the vet gets there. This is an absolute storm in a teacup and I’m sure most normal people will see this for what it is.”
Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s court case, the ball is sure to come bouncing into the British Horseracing Authority’s court with the Cheltenham Festival now less than three weeks away. They are still very sensitive to anything to do with anabolic steroids and with ante-post betting such a feature of the Festival these days; punters will want to know the score on the Fenton-trained runners.
In a statement on Tuesday Robin Mounsey, its spokesman, said: “We are in communication with the Irish Turf Club in relation to Philip Fenton’s court appearance. It is not appropriate to comment any further on this matter at this stage.”
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