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Alan Ahern (Handler) Prohibited Substance Referral – Kilworth & Araglen (H) Knockanohill Point To Point 12th March 2023

The Referrals Committee, Mr. Peter Allen (in the chair), Mr. Finbar Cahill and Mr. Noel McCaffrey convened at the Offices of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board on Tuesday, 3rd October 2023 to consider whether or not Mr. Alan Ahern (Handler) was in breach of any of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Regulations for Point to Point Steeplechases as a result of a report received from LGC Laboratories, Newmarket, England.

The report received on 29th March 2023 confirmed that the blood sample taken from Flemensface following his win in the Tattersalls NH, Radley Engineering & Condons Builders Kilworth 5 & 6 Year Old Geldings Maiden on 12th March 2022, was confirmed by LGC Laboratories to contain clenbuterol. Under Rule 20 (v) and Regulation R14 of the Regulations clenbuterol is a prohibited at all times substance when not administered under the direction of a veterinary surgeon. 

The option of ‘B’ Sample analysis was declined by Mr. Ahern.

Evidence was heard from Mr. Ahern, Dr. Lynn Hillyer, IHRB Chief Veterinary Officer and Head of Anti-Doping and Dr. Graham Adams, Deputy Head of Veterinary Operations.

In her evidence, Dr. Hillyer explained that clenbuterol is a beta-2 agonist drug licensed for use in Ireland for the treatment of respiratory disease in horses. She gave the context for its regulation, specifically that it is controlled by an International Screening Limit and permissible for use as a medication if prescribed by a veterinary surgeon but owing to its potential for abuse that it is a prohibited at all times substance if not. Dr. Hillyer gave the international perspective around regulation of this substance, in particular that its control is viewed as very important by all racing jurisdictions including Ireland. In this instance there was no veterinary involvement at all in the diagnosis of disease, prescription or administration of clenbuterol to Flemensface.    

Dr. Adams outlined the investigation of the Adverse Analytical Finding which included an unannounced Inspection of Mr. Ahern’s stable yard on the 23rd March 2023 during which a number of Prescription Only Medicines were identified including, a bottle of Ventipulmin syrup which was located in a horsebox in the yard. This was assessed as the likely source of the adverse analaytical finding. Dr Adams confirmed that there was no Medicines Register documenting use of, nor prescriptions for, the medicines identified. Mr. Ahern was informed of the adverse analytical finding on 31st March 2023.

In his evidence, Mr. Ahern accepted the adverse analytical finding. He stated that he had been galloping Flemensface on Saturday 4th March 2023 and the rider reported to him afterwards that the horse was stuffed up and gasping for air. Mr. Ahern explained that this may have been due to the horse breaking out into a field on the previous Thursday and Friday and eating too much grass. Mr. Ahern’s said that his rider suggested using glycerine to help with the horse’s breathing. Mr. Ahern further stated that on the following Tuesday, 7th March 2023, he found a bottle of what he thought was glycerine in his barn and administered it to Flemensface before galloping on the same day. This was in fact the Ventipulmin syrup. Mr. Ahern acknowledged that he had made a mistake, saying that he had not intended to administer a prohibited substance nor was he aware that he was administering a prohibited substance.

Having considered the evidence, the Referrals Committee found Mr. Ahern in breach of the following rules:

  1. Rule 96(c) in respect of the adverse analytical finding;
  2. Rule 148(i) for the failure to provide a satisfactory explanation for the adverse finding, the treatment and welfare of the horse and for the matters occurring under his care as a licensed trainer;
  3. Rule 148(iii)(a) and 148(iii)(b) regarding the failure to comply with the rules and regulations relating to Prohibited Substances and for failure to maintain a complete Medicines Register;
  4. Rule 272(i) for behaving in a manner which is prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing; and
  5. Rule 273(i) for the administration or the facilitation of administration of a Prohibited Substance to a horse under his care and control as a licensed trainer.

In arriving at sanction, Mr. Peter Allen delivered the following decision on behalf of the Referrals Committee:

“The panel has had an opportunity to consider this matter and it goes for me to say that we take a very serious view of the administration of a prescription only drug to an animal without the intervention, the help or the guidance of a Veterinary Surgeon. It is not something which we condone and the holding of a licence or permit is a privilege and we expect the people who hold permits or licences to adhere to the rules and regulations which are enforced and attached to that permit or licence. With that in mind, our findings are that in relation to Rule 96(c) the horse should be disqualified from the races on the 12th of March and the 10th of April last and in both cases the stake is to be forfeited, the prizemoney refunded and the result of the race amended accordingly. We are also of the view that the horse should be restricted from running for a period of fourteen months from the 10th April 2023. We are also imposing a fine of €1,000 on Mr. Ahern and in relation to that we are ordering that Mr. Ahern’s Handler’s Permit or your licence to train will be withdrawn for a period of six months from the 1st of November 2023.

In relation to the breaches of Rule 148 Mr. Ahern is fined the sum of €250.

In relation to the breaches of Rules 272(i) and 273(i), in both cases we are going to withdraw Mr. Ahern’s Handlers Permit for a period of 6 months from the 1st of November next to run concurrently with the withdrawal which we have imposed under Rule 96(c).

This has been a costly and very serious lesson for Mr. Ahern, but we do take very seriously the breaches of rules, particularly in relation to the administration of prescription only drugs without Veterinary supervision.”

The case was presented by Ms. Cliodhna Guy, IHRB Head of Legal, Licensing and Compliance

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