Luke Comer banned for three years and facing huge legal bill

Trainer Luke Comer has been handed a three-year ban and faces costs in excess of €755,000 following an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board hearing.

The handler was found to have breached two rules in relation to 12 of his horses testing positive for methandienone and methyltestosterone, steroids that are classified as Prohibited At All Times (PAAT) substances.

A hair sample taken from He Knows No Fear – a 300-1 winner in 2020 – after finishing fourth in the Trigo Stakes at Leopardstown in October 2021 returned a positive result, with out of competition hair testing taking place on that horse and 11 others the following month.

They all returned positive results, with a nine-day hearing subsequently taking place in May this year.

While Comer “acknowledged the presence of the prohibited substances” on the first day of the hearing, he “categorically denies that either he or any of his staff were involved in doping the animals”, according to the IHRB report into the case.

Comer suggested “environmental contamination” could be to blame, pointing to the possibility of contaminated hay, but the Committee found evidence on that idea “difficult” to evaluate while the handler also conceded “an employee could have accidently caused contamination” or a “disgruntled employee could have interfered with the horses”, although there was no evidence to support either theory.

The Referrals Committee underlined Comer had not been charged in breach of Rule 273 (i) which concerns “any person who administers or attempts to administer or connives at the administration to a horse of any prohibited substance” and added Comer had spent an “enormous sum of money” in an attempt to establish the source of the drugs.

However, it said that “after considering a great deal of evidence” it was “unable to say, on the balance of probability, how the horses came to test positive for the PAAT substances”.

The Committee described the case as “quite unprecedented”, concluding it warranted a three-year suspension of Comer’s licence, beginning on January 1.

The handler was fined €5,000 in relation to He Knows No Fear’s positive test and a further €5,000 in respect of each of the 11 horses.

Comer, who “maintains he is not guilty of any misconduct”, was also found to have acted in “a manner which is prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good regulation of horseracing”, for which he was fined €20,000 based on the large number of horses which tested positive and the “reputational damage” to the sport.

He was also ordered to pay 80 per cent of costs incurred by the IHRB in prosecuting the matter – a figure estimated to be in the region of €755,000.

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