Racing came under a further cloud last week, ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, as 2 Irish trainers face charges of possessing illegal drugs, including anabolic steroids.

Philip Fenton (pictured) and Pat Hughes have both had cases brought against them by the Irish Department of Agriculture.

Fenton, who trains in Co Tipperary, faces 8 charges relating to possession of banned anabolic steroids and prescription-only medicines without vet prescriptions. The drugs were seized from his yard on 18 January 2012.

Fenton’s court hearing in Co Tipperary on  20 February ended with the case being adjourned until 20 March — after the Festival (11-14 March).

This was to allow him to prepare legal submissions.

On Wednesday (26 February) British Horseracing Authority (BHA) officials visited Fenton’s yard to interview him and test horses that are entered at the Festival. Results are due next week.

The BHA’s Paul Bittar said: “We want to take steps which serve to uphold public confidence in the relevant races at Cheltenham and the sport in general. Any development that brings the integrity of our sport into question is of considerable concern.”

Owner Barry Connell has chosen to pull The Tullow Tank, trained by Fenton, from the Festival. The horse was due to run in the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle, but will not run again until the case is closed.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary leaves his horse, Last Instalment, in the Gold Cup.

“The timing of this episode is very unfortunate,” said O’Leary, adding he felt “duty-bound” to support Fenton.

In another blow last week it emerged that a second Irish trainer, Co Carlow-based Pat Hughes, had also appeared in court facing 8 charges of possession of steroids, including stanozolol. The drugs were found on 2 February 2012. He appeared in court on
13 February but the case was adjourned until 8 May.

Last year, Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni was banned for 8 years after 22 horses tested positive for anabolic steroids — including stanozolol (news, 2 May).

Earlier this month, Sheikh Mohammed was cleared of having any knowledge of the drug scandals involving his organisation in a review, which he ordered, carried out by Lord Stevens.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (27 February 2014)