Irish racehorse owners are calling on the sport's regulator to install CCTV cameras in all racecourse stable yards – after it emerged that just one of Ireland’s 26 racecourses provides this surveillance.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board is hearing an appeal on Tuesday afternoon from trainer Charles Byrnes over the decision to suspend his licence for six months in relation to his horse Viking Hoard’s run at Tramore in October 2018.
Last month, the IHRB concluded the horse had been nobbled – deliberately doped to stop it winning – prior to a poor run at the Waterford venue. The gelding was found to have raced with 100 times the legal limit of sedative in his system, while the regulator also identified irregular betting patterns which suggested somebody knew the horse would lose.
There are no allegations Byrnes was involved in the administration of the drug to the horse – or in the betting around the race.
The issue of CCTV at Irish tracks has come to the fore since the IHRB published its findings on the incident.
Byrnes told the IHRB inquiry that he and his son left Viking Hoard unattended for 20 to 25 minutes prior to the race at Tramore. The IHRB found the Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer to have been "seriously negligent" in leaving the horse unattended for a period during which the sedative was administered by an unidentified party.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport on Sunday, Byrnes said: "I can’t go into the specifics, but we don’t believe we were in any way negligent."
The result of the appeal is likely to be published towards the end of the week or the beginning of next.
The initial IHRB hearing into the incident noted how there was no CCTV camera in the Tramore stable yard to identify or eliminate potential culprits – with Leopardstown the only racetrack in Ireland to have full surveillance of its stable area. The Curragh is close to installing full CCTV in its stable yard.
The representative group for owners, the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners, has written to the chief executive of the IHRB seeking greater surveillance at racetracks.
The AIRO January newsletter to members, seen by RTÉ, states that: "The Board of directors at AIRO Racing CLG wrote a letter to Denis Egan, CEO of IHRB regarding their deep concerns concerning the recent report of the abhorrent case at Tramore."
"The main objective of the letter was to ascertain what, if any efforts had been made by the IHRB to have CCTV installed since the incident occurred.
"We wanted to highlight that a safe environment for our horses was paramount for our members and looked for the provision of CCTV cameras at all racecourses, specifically in stable yards with adequate staff to patrol and monitor it.
"We also highlighted that confidence in the integrity of Irish racing is of critical importance to the survival of the industry."
The sport's governing body, Horse Racing Ireland, received €64m in Exchequer funding in 2018 and provided €9m to the IHRB. This allocation included provision for "CCTV installation at a number of racecourse stable yards".
Every track in Britain must have CCTV, while a small number of elite tracks in America also provide security cameras in stable areas. Santa Anita in California installed CCTV in each horse’s stable in 2016 after financial support from the local trainers’ organisation. Keenland installed surveillance in the section of its stable area used for the Breeders’ Cup while Gulfstream Park, the home of the lucrative Pegasus World Cup, also has cameras in its newly constructed stable area.
The IHRB has declined to clarify why CCTV wasn’t installed as planned. The board’s chief executive Denis Egan declined to discuss the issue, putting forward Byrnes’ appeal as his reason, during a weekend interview with Racing TV.