Jock­eys’ as­so­ci­a­tion says rise in co­caine pos­i­tives re­flects so­ci­ety

IHRB con­firms it will take tougher stance on jock­eys breaking the rules on drugs

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - Brian O’Con­nor

The Ir­ish Jock­eys’ As­so­ci­a­tion has said the cur­rent in­ter­pre­ta­tion of rules re­gard­ing rid­ers test­ing pos­i­tive for co­caine ap­pears to be rea­son­able even with new en­try-point five-year li­cence sus­pen­sions be­ing im­posed by the Ir­ish Horserac­ing Reg­u­la­tory Board (IHRB) .

The board is in­creas­ing start­ing-point bans to five years after ap­pren­tice jockey Damian Melia and ama­teur rider Conor Mur­phy were banned for four and five years re­spec­tively for pos­i­tive co­caine tests. Mur­phy’s ban was the long­est ever im­posed on a rider for test­ing pos­i­tive for the drug.

How­ever, Mur­phy can reap­ply for his li­cence within 18 months if he com­plies with re­quests from the IHRB’s med­i­cal of­fi­cer in that time. Melia can ap­ply for his rid­ing li­cence back within nine months if he does the same and en­gages pos­i­tively with a rec­om­mended pro­gramme.

Both jock­eys said they took the drug in­ad­ver­tently. Melia told a Re­fer­rals Com­mit­tee panel chaired by Jus­tice Tony Hunt on Thurs­day that he had taken a spiked drink. Mur­phy said his pos­i­tive test was a re­sult of “in­ad­ver­tent ex­po­sure through personal con­tact”.

It is un­der­stood there is a case pend­ing against an­other jockey for test­ing pos­i­tive for co­caine, bring­ing the to­tal of pos­i­tive tests by jock­eys in 2018 to five. Over the last four years there have been 13 pos­i­tive tests by rid­ers for the Class A drug. There have been none for al­co­hol.

Wor­ry­ing

Yes­ter­day the IHRB con­firmed it would take a tougher stance on jock­eys breaking the rules on pro­hib­ited sub­stances. Its chief ex­ec­u­tive, De­nis Egan, said the in­crease in pos­i­tive tests was very wor­ry­ing and the prob­lem was get­ting worse.

“Any rider caught in fu­ture can ex­pect a lengthy ban and in many cases such a ban could po­ten­tially end a rider’s ca­reer, so they need to be very care­ful,” Egan said.

An IHRB state­ment said rid­ers could ex­pect to serve at least a pe­riod of 18 months sus­pen­sion, save in very ex­cep­tional personal cir­cum­stances, be­fore reap­pli­ca­tion for a li­cence would be per­mit­ted.

“It is not nec­es­sar­ily the case that such a ban will al­ways be partly sus­pended but this will re­main an op­tion where the ev­i­dence is such that re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion should be en­cour­aged on the facts of the in­di­vid­ual case.”

An­drew Coo­nan, sec­re­tary of the Ir­ish Jock­eys’ As­so­ci­a­tion, said he felt an un­am­bigu­ous five-year ban for one of his mem­bers test­ing pos­i­tive for co­caine would be “dra­co­nian and un­rea­son­able”.

He added that al­low­ing sus­pen­sions to be re­viewed after jock­eys en­gage pos­i­tively with the au­thor­i­ties had to be an im­por­tant el­e­ment to the penalty struc­ture.

“If some­one said a rider got a five-year ban for tak­ing co­caine I would say that is dra­co­nian and un­rea­son­able. If, how­ever, a rider gets a five-year ban, and has the op­por­tu­nity of ad­dress­ing any is­sues, and en­gages with ser­vices, as a re­sult of which he can sig­nif­i­cantly shorten that, then I would say that is prob­a­bly a rea­son­able de­ci­sion to take.”

Coo­nan is a for­mer ama­teur jockey him­self, and em­pha­sised the se­ri­ous­ness of the drugs is­sue.

“Rid­ers must be pro­tected on the track. When I go out to com­pete, with all the dan­gers I take on, I have to be at least sat­is­fied the guy be­side me is in as much con­trol as one ever can be of a thor­ough­bred at high speed.

“All rid­ers need to know this is be­ing taken very se­ri­ously, that if they fall foul of the rules it will be taken very se­ri­ously, but if they do, in the course of that, al­ways have the op­por­tu­nity of ad­dress­ing [the prob­lem]. A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of rid­ers who’ve en­gaged with the pro­grammes have come back and done very well.”

Pos­i­tive tests

Coo­nan put the rea­son for why pos­i­tive tests have risen so dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years into a broader so­cial con­text. But he also said rac­ing had its own spe­cific is­sues with drugs, some­times in re­la­tion to jock­eys main­tain­ing low weight lev­els.

“We have within our own rac­ing com­mu­nity a sig­nif­i­cantly high level of anx­i­ety is­sues, de­pres­sion and of men­tal health prob­lems. Do any of these rid­ers see that [co­caine] as a short-term ben­e­fit – per­haps they do. “But jock­eys are prob­a­bly re­flect­ing so­ci­ety as a whole. We know co­caine is read­ily avail­able to any­one who wants to get it, at rea­son­ably mod­est prices. Tak­ing it is short term, it’s a quick fix, there’s the high and it goes out of your sys­tem quickly.

“This is be­ing used by young peo­ple ev­ery week­end in­stead of al­co­hol and they feel it is ap­pro­pri­ate. We have a very sig­nif­i­cant drug prob­lem among our young pop­u­la­tion in this coun­try. And any­one in rac­ing would be a fool to think that doesn’t spread into rac­ing.

High­lights

“Per­son­ally, and from a rider’s point of view, it’s a very pos­i­tive thing that if a rider has a pro­hib­ited sub­stance in his sys­tem it is very likely to be picked up in this coun­try. And if it is picked up they will re­ceive a sig­nif­i­cant penalty.”

Fairy­house and Punchestown take turns to race over the com­ing four days with the ¤100,000 Bet Vic­tor Dan Moore Chase the high­lights on Saturday.

Drop­ping back to two miles could suit the free-run­ning Blazer in this, al­though dis­ap­point­ing runs re­cently by a few of Wil­lie Mullins’s team are a con­cern.

The cham­pion trainer runs two in Sun­day’s Grade Two Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hur­dle and on the un­sea­son­able quick ground Ruby Walsh’s call to opt for Har­rie may be proved cor­rect.

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