A trainer and his son have been banned for three years for injecting a racehorse in the stables at the Cheltenham Festival.
Trainer Stephen McConville and his son Michael, who is the horse’s owner, were both given three-year disqualifications by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) disciplinary panel on 19 September.
The horse, Anseanachai Cliste, was entered in the Foxhunter at Cheltenham on 17 March.
The nine-year-old gelding, based in Ireland, had won all eight of his previous point-to-point runs ahead of this hunter chase.
But he did not run as stewards ordered he be withdrawn from the race as they “could not be satisfied that the horse had been administered only normal feed and water on race day”.
The stewards interviewed the owner, trainer, the veterinary officer and the equine welfare integrity office before ordering the horse to be tested and referring the case to the BHA’s head office.
A statement from the BHA disciplinary panel said it had based its decision on “the basis that neither Stephen nor Michael McConville had any real understanding of the components of the substances they administered to [the horse] in the stables at Cheltenham.
“But they had a general belief that they would help their horse in the race due to be run just seven hours after they gave it injections”.
The statement added that their belief may well have been “entirely misplaced” in the case of an adrenal cortex injection.
The horse was also given a Haemo-15 injection, which the panel did not accept that they used for the specific purpose of introducing cobalt into the horse’s system. Tests later showed the horse did have levels of cobalt well above the permitted level.
Under the Rules of racing, only normal feed and water may be given to horses in the stables ahead of a race.
This means even if an injection does not contain a banned substance, the act of injecting a horse in the stables on raceday is an offence with serious penalties.
“The real vice of what they did here was the deliberate breach of race day administration rules, combined with the welfare risks they took,” adds the statement.
“There was an element of premeditation. They brought with them from Northern Ireland the two substances (which had been prescribed for another horse three months before), intending to use them or at least giving themselves the option of using them.”
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The panel disqualified Michael for five years and Stephen for four years.
However, when taking into consideration the “early admissions” in interviews with the pair, the panel reduced these.
“To those amounts we apply a reduction of 40% for the early admissions by Michael McConville in interviews on 19 April 2017, which was well before he was actually charged, and a reduction of just 25% in the case of Stephen McConville, who also made admissions on 19 April 2017 but was considerably less frank about his own role when doing so,” adds the statement.
Both were given three-year disqualifications.
Following the hearing, a joint statement from the pair said: “We fully accept the finding of the BHA and regret they had to invest time and resources to investigate and address the incident.
“We apologise for what has happened, which was of our own doing due to lack of knowledge. However, this is no excuse for what happened at Cheltenham.
“The horse was administered the tonic – Haemo-15 – a widely used nutritional supplement which unknown to us contained cobalt. We now just wish to put this unfortunate matter behind us as it has caused a lot of stress to all members of our family, as the horses and point-to-pointing is purely a hobby for the family.
“Again, we wish to apologise to the BHA for this unfortunate incident and thank them for the fair hearing.”
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