Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Not so much of a hoard than a heinous crime

Posted on 25 February 2021 by Tadhg Creedon
Viking Hoard in action at the Galway Races on 30 July 2018, subsequent to being pulled up as an 11/2 favourite (Source: RacingPost.com)

The Viking Hoard doping case is shameful.

Shameful because you don’t see plots like these exposed in such detail until long after the event. The Gay Future and Yellow Sam racing coups coming to mind. Shameful because of the unethical methods involved. Shameful, above all, because whomever the doper was on that fateful day at Tramore racecourse on October 18, 2018, they had absolutely no concern for either the health of the horse or the jockey, Kevin Brouder.

The Kerry man after all was tasked with piloting a horse containing 100 times the recommended level of the sedative Hyrdoxyethylpromazinehydroxide over six hurdles before pulling him up before the seventh. Given the amount of ACP found in Viking Hoard’s system, its miracoulous that he stayed conscious and Brouder didn’t come to any harm.

A large amount had been placed on the horse to lose on Betfair, with one punter effectively wagering €34,389 to win €3,200 as Viking Hoard drifted from 3-1 to 10-1 before the off. This wasn’t the first time something like this happened. Two further lay bets had been placed on the horse, at Sedgefield in October 2018 and at Galway in July 2018. On the former occasion €30,279 had been risked, while on the latter €55,000 had been risked, representing over half of the total lay market each time.

In his initial response to the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB), trainer Charlie Byrnes said that: “he had nothing to do with the administration of ACP to Viking Hoard or the various betting activities set out above.” The Limerick-born trainer said he and his son had left the horse unattended on two occasions totalling 20-25 minutes while at Tramore.

Byrnes would have you believe that it is normal to leave horses unaccompanied on a race day. The deplorable fact remains though that there is no CCTV coverage of stables at any of Ireland’s 26 racecourses.

The fact that the Cheltenham Festival winning trainer appealed against the six-month ban imposed on him by the IHRB tells you all you need to know. He like many other Irish trainers and owners simply do not recognise authority.

The IHRB can be commended for a detailed 4000-word report outlining what happened to Viking Hoard and rejecting Byrnes appeal this week, describing his behaviour as “inexcusable”. That does not make it perfect though.

It raises plenty of questions and supplies no answers as to who or how the sedative was administered. Nor does it name names of the murky figures cynically defrauding the betting public. Expecting perfection in these circumstances presumes way too much but we do expect credible leadership.

13-time Grade One winning trainer Charlie Byrnes, the individual at the center of the Viking Hoard scandal (Source: RacingPost.com)

Rebuilding a broken image

I am often asked by non-racing friends and colleagues if I think our game is straight? I am defensive of course, as I sometimes feel those asking are sceptical without knowing the facts. The facts are there in black and white now though, and we can no longer pull the wool over someone’s eyes. Our game has become as crooked as a barrel of fish hooks!

Seeing the Byrnes trained Off You Go win the €73,750 Leapardstown Handicap Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival recently was enough to make one hurl. When interviewed by RTE’s Brian Gleeson post-race, he stated:”I don’t lay horses, I only back them.” This was a trainer whose six month ban still hadn’t come into effect. One can only hope some of those winnings went to his stable staff who will be unemployed for the foreseeable future.

The manner in which Viking Hoard was doped is an alarming threat. Naturally people want to know such fraudulent and dangerous acts can’t be repeated, as much from a welfare angle as from a betting perspective. As one of Irish racing great patriarchs, Jim Bolger said last October:

“There needs to be more rigorous testing, but action has to happen after that testing has taken place…It’s not a level playing field and I would say it’s the number one problem in Irish racing. The IHRB gets a huge budget from the HRI (Horse Racing Ireland) and it needs to start spending it properly.”

Dragging its heels on something it is able to fix by itself makes Irish racing’s anti-doping rhetoric sound hollow. Fixing that requires a much more fundamental shake-up than merely the obvious of applying CCTV cameras to all Irish racecourses.

Like any addiction, we have admitted there is a major problem, now is the time to fix it and repair the image of Irish racing as a whole.