22nd January 2021

IHRB finds horse was ’nobbled’ with sedatives for betting purposes

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IRHB) has suspended the licence of Cheltenham Festival winning trainer Charles Byrnes for six months, after a horse competing at Tramore Racecourse on 18 October 2018 was found to be heavily sedated. Following previous good performances, Viking Hoard was pulled up before the seventh hurdle, and a veterinary inspection revealed a slow heart rate. 

Urine samples were taken and analysed at LGC Laboratories, Fordham, UK, which found they contained hydroxyethylpromazinehydroxide (HEPS), a metabolite of acepromazine (ACP). Analysis of the B sample at LCH Laboratories in France confirmed the adverse analytical finding (AAF). ACP is a sedative, becoming active within 15-30 minutes of administration and lasting up to six or seven hours. The IHRB found that Viking Hoard was subject to a ‘dangerous degree of sedation’ during the race.

The IHRB found that lay bets (bets to lose) had been placed on the horse on a number of occasions. A ‘substantial’ lay bet was placed on Viking Hoard at Tramore, with a liability of €34,889 if it won, which was risked to win €3,200. At Sedgefield on 2 October, €30,279 was risked in a similar bet with a return of €12,000. At Galway on 30 July, €55,000 was risked to win €12,000.

All three of these lay bets were traced though Betfair to the same account. They were placed with a Limited Liability Company, which placed them with Betfair. ‘The Committee was surprised to hear that such a mechanism is possible, as it could hinder identification’, reads the IHRB ruling. A ‘known individual’ in a ‘distant part of the world’ was found to be behind the account. 

The IHRB accepted evidence that Viking Hoard had been ‘nobbled’ by a third party when left unattended. However, although it accepted that Byrnes was not involved in the administration of ACP or the betting patterns, it found that he had been ‘seriously negligent’ in the supervision of Viking Hoard on the day of the Tramore race. The IHRB accepted evidence that a third party executed the doping of Viking Hoard, but found that Byrnes’s ‘general mode of operation permitted such a strategy to be viable’.

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