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Comment & Opinion | Sport

The Jockey’s Journal: Why Ireland’s blanket ban for steroid-infused race horses is unfair

Irish trainer Philip Fenton was disqualified for three years for possessing banned animal medicines in 2014 [Picture: Inpho]
Irish trainer Philip Fenton was disqualified for three years for possessing banned animal medicines in 2014 [Picture: Inpho]
IN racing, we’ve opened up a window to breed anything and everything, even though there should have been a clampdown.

But wherever there’s a chance to make money in any industry, it will be made. Recently, governing body Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) announced that any horse that tested positive for steroids would get a lifetime ban.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a great idea. I agree that in Ireland there’s a long-term breeding issue, but blanket bans aren’t the solution.

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In Britain if a horse tests positive for steroid use they are barred from being trained for one year and banned from competing for 14 months.

As a society and industry, we’ve been quick to breed off a two-year-old that’s enjoying a good career, rather than a three-year-old who may have shown problems.

As a result, the three-year-olds aren’t trained on and then lose a lot of their value. It’s a similar concept to a house, if your house is worth £150,000 now but in a few years it’s guaranteed to be worth less, you might prefer to take your profits now.

The problem is that some of the young horses who have only raced a couple of times have been used for breeding, but their problems only surface later on.

So, really, we’re just breeding the problem on down the gene line, for example, with horses that bleed or have bad feet.

I think the introduction of lifetime bans in Ireland is to curb breeding problems and ensure that the animals are 110 per cent sound.

It’s similar with humans. If the doctor says you have a slipped disc but he could give you an injection for pain relief that could last two years, you’d probably take that.

For horses with internal bleeding problems, enduring the pain can’t be a good experience. So, if you can train the horse with the use of steroids to stop the bleeding, then I can see why it’s used.

But ultimately I can understand that everyone wants a fair ride. In England there’s a withdrawal I believe of two weeks before race for those on steroids.

On a scale of one to a hundred, I reckon there’s probably around 60-70 per cent of animals with problems. I think that the way forward would be to keep a withdrawal period in Ireland. Surely, that’s fair? The blanket ban is quite a harsh decision.

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Dougie Costello
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Jump jockey Dougie Costello writes a weekly column for The Irish Post print edition every Wednesday. Check out his tips every week and follow Dougie on Twitter @DougieCostello

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