A leading Irish racehorse trainer has been fined €6,000 for possession of steroids and other banned substances at his stables.
Philip Fenton faced eight charges after a cardboard box hidden in the horse spa in his yard in Co Tipperary was found packed with 25 bottles and containers of animal remedies on January 18 2012.
Among them was one kilo of the anabolic steroid Nitrotain in a paste form in a black tub – enough for 250 doses – and a 20ml bottle of a second performance-enhancing drug Ilium Stanabolic.
Fenton did not give evidence in the one-day hearing in Carrick-on-Suir District Court and refused to explain afterwards why he had the steroids in his yard.
Nitrotain is a fast-acting steroid which builds up muscle mass, improves stamina and toughens bones.
It is one of the most potent drugs of its kind and four times stronger than the other which contained the active ingredient Stanozolol – best known after Canadian athlete Ben Johnson tested positive for it after winning Olympic gold in Seoul 1988.
The trial heard Nitrotain’s effects take only two weeks to kick in but it is difficult to detect as no traces are found in a horse after two days.
Walking from the courthouse Fenton declined to comment, except to say he would give the verdict and sentence consideration.
The trainer, who has a highly-regarded 22% strike rate in Ireland this season, attempted to have the case thrown out over the way the veterinary inspectors carried out the search at his yard and the subsequent inquiry.
Judge Timothy Lucey rejected the application but criticised officials in the Department of Agriculture for what he called “sloppiness” over their failure to label the bottles and containers in the box as soon as they were uncovered.
The judge told Fenton, who trains at Garryduff, South Lodge, Carrick-on-Suir, that the penalties would send a message out.
“I think it’s sufficiently serious that fines have to be such that other people won’t be inclined to take liberties,” the judge said.
The trial heard veterinary inspectors took four weeks to give Fenton a list of the steroids, antibiotics and unauthorised medicine found in the cardboard box.
It was discovered during the search hidden under a horse rug next to a medicine store.
The other drugs in the box included a counterfeit medicine and prescription-only antibiotics held without the necessary papers.
The court heard that Fenton admitted the box was his.
Inspectors said they felt the trainer tried to stall them when they first arrived and they saw stable secretary Sasha Maxwell running towards the medicine store and carrying a horse rug.
Senior investigator Brendan Daly told the trial he watched her through the office window, then followed her and instigated the search.
“I found a box containing medicines under a horse rug,” he said.
“I asked Mr Fenton if he owned the box and he said that he did. I posed the question to Mr Fenton was the box his property and why it was hidden under the horse rug – he used words like it was to lessen the effect of the search.”
Fenton, 49, had 28 horses in training at the time of the search.
He sat in the public gallery during the day-long hearing and no evidence was offered in his defence.
His barrister, senior counsel Johnny Walsh, claimed the team from the Department of Agriculture’s special investigations unit should have used a search warrant before the inspection.
No department-stamped exhibit sheet was filled out at the time to detail the seizure, the court heard.
Mr Walsh hit out at Mr Daly after he revealed that he stored the seized drugs in the same white cardboard box in a locker in a room at his own house until St Valentine’s Day when he returned to interview Fenton.
“I’m suggesting to you that this is totally unacceptable and you know it is totally unacceptable and you know it is a breach of protocols that you did not record what was found in an exhibit book,” Mr Walsh said.
Judge Lucey dismissed any questions over the integrity of the drugs.
He also ordered Fenton to pay the costs and expenses involved in the investigation and the court case – about €4,200.