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John Halley (Trainer) Prohibited Substance Referral – Gowran Park 2nd March 2021

The Referrals Committee, Mr. Justice Tony Hunt (in the chair), Mr. Nicholas Wachman, and Mr. Anthony Byrne convened in the Offices of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board on Monday, 13th June 2022 to consider whether or not Mr. John Halley (Trainer) was in breach of any rules of racing as a result of a report received from LGC Laboratories, Newmarket, England.


The report received on 16th March 2021 stated the urine sample taken from Iberia following his win in division two of the Sea Moon & Jukebox At Burgage Maiden Hurdle, was confirmed by LGC Laboratories to contain gabapentin. Under Rule 20(v) and Regulation R14 of the Rules of Racing and Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Rules gabapentin is a prohibited substance.


The option of ‘B’ sample analysis was requested by Mr. Halley and this was reported positive for gabapentin on 6thApril 2021.


Evidence was heard from Mr. Halley and the investigation report of Dr. Lynn Hillyer, Head of Anti-Doping and Chief Veterinary Officer was considered as well as a report from Professor Stuart Paine of the University of Nottingham.


In her report, Dr. Hillyer outlined the details of the IHRB investigation. Dr. Hillyer stated that gabapentin is a human medication promoted for horses as a pain killer for neuropathic pain which is usually chronic, for example to manage laminitis, navicular syndrome and headshaking and to control seizures in foals. She said it must be prescribed by veterinary surgeons for use in animals, including horses, under the prescribing ‘cascade’ and there is not a product licensed for use in horses. It is listed as a Controlled Medication by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). Dr. Hillyer confirmed that on seeking views from the Chief Veterinary Officers of the European Horserace Scientific Liaison Committee, as is process when a laboratory has reported a prohibited substance for the first time in a jurisdiction, there was unanimous consensus that the substance is prohibited on raceday, but not at all times. As a drug with effects on multiple body systems, gabapentin is a prohibited substance on race day under Rule 20(v)/Regulation 14 of the Rules of Racing and INHS Rules.  


Dr. Hillyer confirmed that she contacted Mr. Halley as part of the investigation and advised that there may be an adverse analytical finding. She said that at the time, Mr. Halley stated that the horse had not been treated with any product before his race and that he did not use gabapentin professionally as a veterinary surgeon. Dr. Hillyer confirmed that on 19th March, Mr. Halley sent copies of the Medicines Register page for Iberia which confirmed no entry relevant to the finding and Mr. Halley also sent a letter from veterinary surgeon Rachael Forgie, of O’Connor Julian Veterinary Hospital, Cashel describing her examination and treatment of the Halley family dog who had presented with sudden onset of severe pain, and so been prescribed gabapentin from 20th February to 3rd March. Dr. Hillyer added that Mr. Halley explained that the dog was allowed free rein of the stables and was accompanying the staff mucking out and he suggested that cross-contamination from the dog’s urine was responsible for the gelding’s positive post-race adverse analytical finding.


Dr. Hllyer stated that in order to better understand this scenario, samples of canine urine were obtained by free catch from two dogs administered with gabapentin during clinical treatment. These were analysed at LGC using a bespoke target screen and reported to contain gabapentin and N-methyl gabapentin and following this targeted analysis, the canine urine samples were run through the routine screens deployed for analysis of equine urine and gabapentin (parent) was detected in both. Dr. Hillyer explained that since the methyl gabapentin has not been reported in horse, this was not originally in LGC’s database. She added that after this work, it was added - and then detected in the canine urine sample with an aliquot of Sample 5276940 re-run through this newly updated screen to see whether the metabolite could be detected and LGC reported ‘The re-analysis does indicate the possible presence of methyl gabapentin in addition to gabapentin.’ Dr. Hillyer said that this extensive laboratory investigation involving careful analysis of parent drug and metabolites in canine urine, and further analysis of the Sample from Iberia followed by consultation with Professor Stuart Paine, provided sufficient scientific evidence for the IHRB to accept Mr Halley’s explanation for the post-race result as likely.


In his evidence, Mr. Halley confirmed that it took a lot of work to understand the positive finding as he has never used gabapentin in the 40 years that he has been in business as a veterinary surgeon. He explained that his wife’s dog had needed veterinary attention and as his own practice was purely equine care, Mrs. Halley had brought the dog to O’Connor Julian Veterinary Hospital for treatment. He said that this case had been the cause of much embarrassment for him both personally and professionally.


Having considered the evidence, Chairman of the Referrals Committee Justice Hunt read out the following decision on behalf of the committee.


“On the uncontested evidence, the Committee found Mr. Halley in breach of Rule 96A. In relation to sanction, the Committee disqualified the horse from the race in question, ordered that the stake be forfeited and that the result be amended accordingly. The Committee then considered the imposition of a fine and whether any fine should be waived. Waiver is permitted under Rule 96 where the Committee is satisfied that the prohibited substance was administered unknowingly and that the trainer had taken all reasonable precautions to avoid a breach of the Rule. 


The Committee was satisfied that the facts of the case were unique. The explanation proffered was subsequently investigated and researched by Dr Hillyer on behalf of the IHRB and also considered independently by the external expert Professor Paine. The Committee was bound by the expert evidence, which concluded that the explanation put forward by Mr Halley was plausible and that the prohibited substance could have been transferred from dog to horse in the manner that he described. The veterinary surgeon retained to treat the dog had undoubtedly prescribed the substance in question for the family dog at the relevant time. Mr Halley explained to the Committee that his wife had retained another vet because his own practice was focused on equines rather than canines. 


The Committee was therefore satisfied that the medication was clearly “unknowingly administered” to the horse after excretion from the dog in the stable. This left the final question as to what “reasonable precautions” should have been taken by a trainer in these circumstances. The Committee took the view that dogs are a common everyday feature of stable life. The IHRB had not argued that taking reasonable precautions required the exclusion of dogs, but rather required a trainer to ascertain the recent medical history of dogs or other animals who happen to enter their stables.


Having considered the matter in this context, the Committee was satisfied that, whereas it fully accepted that a trainer taking reasonable precautions ought to satisfy himself of such matters in relation to horses entering licensed stables, this obligation did not extend other types of animals who might be also be present. The Committee noted that the unusual circumstances had resulted in loss of the race, as well as considerable personal and professional embarrassment for Mr Halley. He presented with a clean record. In all of the circumstances the Committee imposed but then waived a fine of €1,000.


However, the Committee held that an application for costs by the IHRB was reasonable and justified in circumstances where the unusual facts required extra investigation and research. The Committee ordered Mr. Halley to pay the sum of €800 in that respect.”


The Amended result of the Sea Moon & Jukebox At Burgage Maiden (Division 2) now reads:


First:      Knight Of Malta (USA)

Second: Up With The Play

Third:    Estepona Sun (GB)

Fourth:  Royal Sage

Fifth:     Anno Maximo (GER)


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

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