Viking Hoard during a race in 2017
Irish racing was left stunned on Tuesday when Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer Charles Byrnes had his licence withdrawn for six months and was fined €1,000 (£890) after one of his horses was found to have been “nobbled” with a dangerously high level of a sedative shortly before a race.
In a tale straight out of a Dick Francis novel, the modest handicap hurdler Viking Hoard was laid to lose significant sums by a shady individual through an intermediary at a nondescript race at Tramore.
Successful bets placed with Betfair were said to have been placed by an alleged renowned match-fixer “based in a distant part of the world”.
The shocking details were revealed on Tuesday when Byrnes, who trained his first winner 26 years ago, faced the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.
The trainer, who won multiple top-grade races with Solwhit and is appealing against the verdict, was not linked to the doping, but he was found to have been “seriously negligent in the supervision of Viking Hoard” and to have “indulged in an unacceptable level of risk taking in the supervision of his charge” at the racecourse.
It was Dr Lynn Hillyer, chief veterinarian and head of anti-doping at the IHRB, who used “nobbled” to describe what had happened to the Viking Hoard in Oct 2018 before the horse was pulled up when tailing off in a handicap hurdle.
It was not challenged at the inquiry with Hillyer adding Viking Hoard had raced under “a dangerous degree of sedation”, putting all other runners and riders at risk, and that the betting patterns were not a coincidence.
The dope test showed Viking Hoard had 10 times the international screening limit of the ACP sedative, which takes effect within 15 to 30 minutes in normal amounts and lasts for six to seven hours.
The inquiry concluded the horse must have been got at shortly before the race in the course stables, where there was no closed-circuit television and where Byrnes and his son, Cathal, had left him unattended twice, for up to 25 minutes, after arriving two hours earlier.
Viking Hoard drifted from 4-1 in the morning to 8-1 in the 11-runner race won by 7-2 favourite Thisonesforollie, who had opened on course at 5-1. It was the British authorities who alerted their Irish counterparts to the betting patterns on Betfair, where half the market on the race involved a bet of €34,889 made to win €3,200 when Viking Hoard lost.
The inquiry was also told similar big laying-to-lose bets were made when the horse was beaten at Sedgefield 16 days earlier and at Galway in July. Racing and the betting industry are likely to feel repercussions as the inquiry concluded: “This case illustrates the specific challenges and dangers to the integrity of racing posed by the widespread ability to back horses to lose races for significant returns.
“The desirability of this practice or how it might be better controlled within the available regulatory resources is worthy of further, constant review.”