Portmarnock – A Line In The Sand?

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Courtesy of Nadina Ironia. Please visit Ironia-Art.com for more breathtaking images.

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The Racing Horse has posted something we touched on last month and hoped Harnesslink would cover it but Editor Steve Wolf called it a jumbled mess. It has some relevance to a meeting tonight at Portmarnock Raceway (8pm) so thought it prudent to post the jumbled mess here.

Harness Racing in the UK and Ireland has an infection and that's official! Problems abound and the current-day perception of the sport gives real cause for concern. Riddled, might be too strong a word but the sport has a nefarious element who scoff at a weak rule book. In a recent blog we asked some simple questions:

  • Do we have a professional product?
  • It the product as honest as it can be?
  • Is the product fair, consistent and transparent?
  • Is the product moving forward?

The answer to all four points is a resounding no! Given the history and nature of the sport we cannot aspire to halo standard but there are things we can do better without much cost. Our view is that although collusion or driving to lose is abhorrent and a sport-killer in itself it is not the worst offence - using banned substances are!

Setting aside whether he have a professional product we had a sub-list of 12 items that we would like to change/debate but what we cannot debate any more is what happens with drug cheats! In fairness the BHRC for the UK are on the case given their small resources and no outside funding but it is time for them to work smarter and definitely tougher. So what does this mean?

It means burning the old rule book and moving away from fines to exclusion! One readily accepts the fear of losing money, owners and horses from the sport if we demand fairness and cleansing but that is the task. Ultimately the sport can only prosper if it is moral, clean and everyone has a fair and equal chance of succeeding.

Our understanding is trainers rationalise cheating by convincing themselves they are just "helping" the horse. One accepts some injections are to manage pain but other drugs are endogenous to the horse and go undetected in post-race testing. The helping of the horse is code for "it's not cheating if you dont get caught." We readily accept that PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) are not exclusive to harness racing. Our suggestion is for an informed decision-making COUNCIL of WAR because working alone is a total waste of time!

You will hear the phrases like - yes but, in principle we agree, there are resource constraints and if we did that we would lose owners, but these apologists must be dismissed with a cursory wave of a hand! We advocate an updated up to the minute historical page on the BHRC website naming and shaming the trainers who have been caught cheating, with an advisory notice to owners not to use them in future. If we ensure we consistently report only proven facts it would not be illegal to do so.

The BHRC cannot act alone and succeed, it must take the sport with them so it is also time for an equalisation of standards and they should liaise with IHRA so it covers both governing bodies. Both countries would ultimately gain from such an introduction? On clear proven infringements lifetime bans should be applicable in the UK and Ireland. The introduction of INTEGRITY MEETINGS on a biannual basis with the BHRC and the IHRA attending and exchanging new ideas would send out a loud message to prospective transgressors. The minutes of those meetings should be made public. Other interested parties could be invited when appropriate and we could introduce a genuine and confidential whistle-blowing procedure and if we stand on some toes - tough, let's drive the despicables out, they will not go on their own accord.

But first, we want the IHRA to HONOUR A PROMISE made to The Racing Horse. As we understand things, all tests taken in the UK are sent for testing at LCH in France, which is an accredited laboratory but in Ireland it is our information that only a few tests/samples taken are actually tested.

Over a year ago at the 2016 Tregaron August Festival we withdrew a piece at the request of the IHRA concerning integrity testing numbers in Ireland. They (IHRA) had told us the piece could be damaging whilst talks were ongoing regarding betting on Irish Harness Racing. We had originally asked them: "Can you confirm that integrity testing is as rigorous in Ireland as it is in the UK? What shape does it take and how widespread is the testing? Do all tests get sent to the laboratory and what happens from there? We are in the middle of an article and need clarification and do not want to give any misinformation. I had also asked the BHRC similar questions and thought it prudent to see where we are in 2016. I had received damning information from those that believe our sport is at best tarnished and was desperate to ally fears."

These questions were asked a second and third time before receiving a reply from James O'Sullivan of the Irish Harness Racing Association who said: "Apologies for the delay in responding just been extremely busy on all fronts, I will draft an official response with details of our process and some comparisons with our counterparts in the BHRC later."

In the past month I have made further representations to the IHRA which have also been ignored until official Mark Flanagan offered a part explanation last Saturday, he said: “We are members of the UET where we had to go through a vigorous examination of our processes which included integrity.” He continued: “There are some that are disgruntled but these have their own agenda. The vast majority are happy with all our processes.”

Returning to integrity testing, we have yet to receive an official response or some comparisons as promised! The original intervention looked a way of stopping a piece questioning integrity testing without intending to do much about anything. The IRHA must come clean and address the above points and with the current discontent it would be wise for them to do so.

Whether it is pulling horses, drug cheating, undesirables within the sport or racing on roads amongst traffic the perception is that harness racing is neither clean nor professional and unfit/not in a condition to receive commercial help or advantage. In this piece we have not talked about many other aggregate factors that compound the banned substances problem and hinder our sport.

The Racing Horse believes that going forward, Harness Racing in the UK and Ireland needs a brand new updated code of conduct, more transparency, honesty and bigger/severe penalties to transgressors. Unfortunately, because of a lack of will and courage this is not going to happen and the infestation will remain and fester. Potential subscribers see a sport that is insular, looks after self-interest and is unattractive commercially with little regard to the customer. It sees a sport that refuses to tackle dishonesty and is soft on drugs. The sport is completely held together with the goodwill from the fabulous volunteers who share our love for the sport, without their commitment the sport would cease to exist in the UK and Ireland!

Today's Pacafi: click here
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