Protecting the Integrity & Reputation of Irish Horseracing

S.J. Mahon (Trainer) Referral - Ballinrobe 28th May, 2018, Tipperary 24th May, 2018, Limerick 20th April, 2018, Roscommon 12th June, 2018

The Referrals Committee, Mr. Justice Tony Hunt (in the chair), Mr. N.P. Lambert and Mr. Anthony Byrne met at the Offices of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) The Curragh, Co. Kildare on Tuesday 18th September 2018, to consider reports from LGC Laboratories, Cambridgeshire, UK, that the Samples taken from:

  • “Trump Sixteen” following his win at Limerick on 20th April, 2018, was found to contain arsenic at a concentration of 1630 (+/- 20) ng/ml.
  • “Hugh Divots” following her run at Tipperary on 24th May, 2018, was found to contain arsenic at a concentration of 2270 (+/- 20) ng/ml.
  • “Rocky Court” following his win at Ballinrobe on 28th May, 2018, was found to contain arsenic at a concentration of 823 (+/- 20) ng/ml.
  • “Hugh Divots” following her run at Roscommon on 12th June, 2018, was found to contain cobalt at a concentration of 212 (+/- 14) ng/ml.

Under Rule 20 (v), arsenic is a Prohibited Substance and a Sample containing it at a concentration above the threshold of 300 ng/ml in urine must be reported ‘positive’ and constitutes a breach of Rule 96(a).

Under Rule 20 (v), cobalt is a Prohibited Substance and a Sample containing it at a concentration above the threshold of 100 ng/ml in urine must be reported ‘positive’ and constitutes a breach of Rule 96(a).

Mr. Mahon requested the analysis of the ‘B’ portion of the Sample for both “Trump Sixteen” and “Rocky Court” which confirmed the findings from the “A” portion of the Samples, positive for arsenic at a concentration of 1862 (+/- 79) ng/ml and 836 (+/- 27) ng/ml respectively. He also requested that the ‘B’ portion of the Sample taken from Hugh Divots on 12th June 2018 be counter-analysed for cobalt; this was confirmed at 184 (+/- 7) ng/ml.

Evidence was heard from Dr. Lynn Hillyer, IHRB Chief Veterinary Officer/Head of Anti-Doping regarding the investigation into the adverse analytical finding, from Associate Professor Mr. Stuart Paine, University of Nottingham, who provided an expert report and from Mr. Mahon.

In her evidence Dr. Hillyer advised that arsenic is a chemical widely distributed in the environment, usually at very low levels. It is monitored in food, particularly rice, and water in Ireland. Fish and seafood account for over 90% of total exposure to arsenic in food; it is mostly present in its less toxic organic form in these. In its inorganic form it is a highly toxic carcinogen, used for centuries as a poison, before more recently being employed as a chemical weapon and doping agent. Paradoxically, it has also been used as a medicine and is today marketed for horses as a ‘tonic’.

It is a prohibited substance as set out in Rule 20(v) and Regulation 14 of the Rules of Racing and the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Rules because it is a substance capable at any time of causing an action or effect, or both an action and effect, within several mammalian body systems. As it is found in nature a threshold level of 300ng/ml in urine has been in place internationally for twenty years.

Following a yard inspection, it was noted that Mr. Mahon used a large volume of seaweed in feeding his horses. Further research and investigation into the seaweed resulted in the seaweed being identified as a source of the arsenic and this was confirmed by analysis of a sample of the seaweed by LGC Laboratories. It was noted that Mr. Mahon ceased using seaweed in feeding once advised that it would be prudent to do so but continued to run horses while the investigation into the initial adverse analytical finding for “Trump Sixteen” was ongoing, resulting in the further positives. 

In relation to the adverse analytical finding for cobalt in the sample taken from “Hugh Divots” Mr. Mahon reported at interview that he was using a multivitamin supplement due to Hugh Divots being a ‘shy feeder’. This supplement was labelled as containing 10 mg cobalt per 60 ml daily dose. Professor Paine explained that the laboratory results were consistent with this supplement having been given within a 12-24 hour period prior to the race based on the recommended dose and the amount of cobalt compared with vitamin B12 in the supplement. 

In his evidence Mr. Mahon stated that he had been using seaweed in his feeding for a period of time and had found it beneficial for the horses however since becoming aware of the contamination issue he had ceased using it completely. In respect of the supplement his evidence was the horse had received a feed the night before which had been top dressed with the supplement and a small breakfast due to her eating habits. No supplement had been provided on the day of the race.

Having considered the evidence the Committee were satisfied that Mr. Mahon was in breach of Rule 96(a) in respect of all charges. They ordered that “Rocky Court”, “Trump Sixteen”, and “Hugh Divots” be disqualified from the relevant races and the stakes be forfeited.

In relation to the arsenic charges the Committee found that the trainer had unknowingly administered the prohibited substance and had taken all reasonable precautions to avoid a breach of the rules and on that basis exercised its discretion to waive the fine of €1,000 in each of the three cases.

In relation to the cobalt charge the Committee found that not all reasonable precautions had been taken by the trainer to avoid a breach and therefore a fine would be imposed. Due to the cooperation provided by the trainer the minimum fine of €1,000 was deemed appropriate. The IHRB were also awarded €1,000 in costs.

The Committee disqualified both horses “Rocky Court” and “Trump Sixteen” from first place and ordered the records be amended to read as follows:-

Ballinrobe – 28th May, 2018

Bank of Ireland H´cap S´chase 4-Y-O plus

First:                Draycott Place

Second:            Eight Till Late

Third:               Ontopoftheworld

Fourth:             Usa

Fifth:                Damut

Limerick – 20th April, 2018

Panoramic Restaurant H´cap H´dle 4-y-o plus

First:                Sil Ver Klass(FR)

Second:            Wild Sam

Third:               All About Alfie

Fourth:             Padraic O’Conaire

Fifth:                You Can’t Catch Me

Andrew Coonan, of Coonan Cawley Solicitors, Naas Town Centre, Naas, Co. Kildare represented Mr. Mahon.

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


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