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Joseph Anthony Murray (Trainer) Prohibited Substance Referral – Limerick 24th April 2021

The Referrals Committee, Mr. Justice Raymond Groarke (in the chair), Mr. Nicholas Wachman, and Mr. Peter M. Allen convened in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone, County Westmeath on Friday, 8th April 2022 and reconvened in the Offices of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board on Monday 23rd May 2022 to consider whether or not Mr. Joseph Murray (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 5th May 2021 stated the urine sample taken from Rodney Bay following his win in division two of the Racing Again on 27th May Handicap on 24th April 2021 at Limerick Racecourse, was confirmed by LGC Laboratories to contain arsenic above the International Threshold of 300 ng/ml. Under Rule 20(v) and Regulation R14 of the Rules of Racing and Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Rules arsenic is a prohibited substance.

The option of ‘B’ sample analysis was declined with Mr. Murray accepting the result of the ‘A’ Sample.           

The hearing was adjourned on 8th April 2022 to allow for further evidence to be gathered and evidence at the reconvened hearing was heard from Mr. Murray, Dr. Lynn Hillyer, Head of Anti-Doping and Chief Veterinary Officer, Professor Stuart Paine of the University of Nottingham, Mr. John Gough, JHG Analytical Services and Mr. Liam Sharp, Veterinary Surgeon.

In her evidence, Dr. Hillyer outlined the details of the IHRB investigation. Dr. Hillyer recalled that following LGC Laboratory notifying the IHRB on 5th May 2021 that there was a screening finding for arsenic above the International Threshold of 300 ng/mL for same in the post-race Sample taken from Rodney Bay on 24th April 2021 after his race at Limerick, an unannounced out of competition testing inspection was carried out by the IHRB on 10th May 2021.

She explained that arsenic is a chemical widely distributed in the environment, usually at very low levels. It has also been used as a medicine and is today marketed for horses as a ‘tonic’. Arsenic has been implicated in numerous Adverse Analytical Findings in horse racing both after deliberate administration, as a result of feed contamination and it has been suggested as a result of ingesting creosoted wood. Four adverse analytical finding cases were investigated by the IHRB in 2018, in which the source was identified as the feeding of large quantities of seaweed or seaweed products. In recognition of the fact that arsenic is ubiquitous in nature and thus present in all plants, horse feeds and horses’ systems, an International Threshold was adopted some two decades ago by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities’ (IFHA).

Dr. Hillyer said that during the out of competition testing inspection, no products, feeds or other material were identified that were adjudged to be relevant or a possible source. Hair and blood samples were taken for analysis from eight horses including Rodney Bay. Whilst the results did not return any findings to assist explaining the adverse analytical finding, the estimated signal intensity for arsenic in the blood sample taken from Rodney Bay was higher than any of the other horses.  LGC confirmed on 19th May 2021 via quantitative analysis that arsenic was present at a concentration at 362 ng/mL in the Sample taken from Rodney Bay. Following consultation with Mr. Murray, both Rodney Bay and a second horse from the yard were taken to Navan racecourse on 30th May 2021 and urine samples obtained. Both samples returned a negative result for arsenic on 7th June 2021.  No source has since been identified for the adverse analytical finding.

In his evidence, Mr. Murray stated that he was still unable to identify a source for this adverse analytical finding despite numerous measures to do so. He said that he had immediately had his water tested when being informed of the finding and also contacted Mr. Liam Sharp for further advice at the time. Furthermore, Mr. Murray stated that he had samples taken for analysis at the Irish Equine Centre as well as liaising with Dr. Hillyer for further testing of Rodney Bay before opting to run any horses. He said the negative results from Navan on 7th June 2021 provided him with confidence that he could run horses again but further samples taken from his horses and analysed by Mr. Gough recently returned five results which would be higher than normal for arsenic and that has given rise to further uncertainty. Mr. Murray said that he believed the creosoted wood in the paddock where Rodney Bay had grazed was the most likely source until he read the report of Professor Paine which then suggested that was unlikely. Mr. Murray confirmed he does not use any supplements for his horses and that he had also changed living arrangements for some horses in attempt to find the source but has yet been unable to do so. 

In his evidence, Mr. Gough gave his opinion on the complexities of arsenic and the unreliability of it when it comes to potential environmental contamination. He gave a number of potential sources for the adverse analytical finding but accepted that at this stage they were speculative as he had yet to visit Mr. Murray’s premises but has been requested to do so. 

In his evidence, Professor Paine explained in detail the equine pharmacokinetics of arsenic and in particular the study of urine arsenic levels following consumption of treated timber (CCA). Professor Paine suggested that from research carried out, the creosoted wood taken from Mr. Murray’s yard contained just 0.0116% of the arsenic contained in CCA treated wood and that from the sample of wood taken from Mr. Murray’s yard it would have required the horse to ingest 863kg which could not give rise to the adverse analytical finding in this instance.

In his evidence, Mr. Sharp outlined how he had been contacted by Mr. Murray following confirmation of the adverse analytical finding. He said that his experience of Mr. Murray prior to this case would be that he has a notable attention to detail regarding compliance and regulation but they were still unable to provide a suggestion as to the cause of the adverse analytical finding. Mr. Sharp informed the committee that following receipt of Professor Paine’s report that he carried out further blood samples which returned a wide range of results and it was still a work in progress but any horses which Mr. Murray is running at the moment had returned results which were of little concern.  

Having considered the evidence, Justice Groarke read out the following decision on behalf of the committee.

“The rules provide that a finding in excess of 300ng/ml of urine means that the horse has a prohibited substance present. On the 24th April 2021, following his win at Limerick, Rodney Bay was found to have 362g/ml of arsenic of urine in his system. The finding has been accepted by Mr. Murray and he is therefore in breach of Rule 96A. It follows that the committee must disqualify Rodney Bay from the race in question, amend the result accordingly and the stake must be forfeited. In considering what penalties to impose, the committee are particularly concerned about the facts that, notwithstanding the passage of 13 months, no reasonable or satisfactory explanation has been forthcoming as to how the prohibited substance came to be in the horses system. An initial explanation to which a consumption of timber that had been treated with creosote was ultimately found to be without merit. Mr. Murray relied on that opinion to his detriment and has now instigated renewed investigation into the source of the substance. Regrettably, Mr. Murray has provided urgency to that investigation somewhat belatedly. Having considered all the evidence, the penalty imposed is a fine of €1,000 and €3,000 towards costs.”

The Amended result of the Racing Again on 27th May Handicap (Division 2) now reads:

First:      Ellaat (GB)

Second: Legal Thriller

Third:    Park Row

Fourth:  Indignation (FR)

Fifth:     Canford Light


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

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