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Northern Ireland father and son banned from horseracing over Cheltenham Festival doping

Stephen McConville.
Stephen McConville.

Trainer Stephen McConville and his son Michael accepted full responsibility and apologised to the British Horseracing Authority after both men were disqualified for three years following a hearing into the withdrawal of Anseanachai Cliste at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The Northern Ireland-based handler and his son, who is the registered owner of Anseanachai Cliste, faced a disciplinary panel on Tuesday to answer doping charges brought against them by the BHA after the nine-year-old was found to have cobalt, a prohibited substance, above the permitted threshold in a urine sample taken before he was due to run in the Foxhunter Chase.

In a joint-statement released to Press Association Sport, the McConvilles said: "We fully accept the finding of the British Horseracing Authority and regret that 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 - which is 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."

Anseanachai Cliste was withdrawn from the Foxhunter Chase by order of the stewards, with a BHA report at the time stating they "could not be satisfied that the horse had been administered only normal feed and water on race day".

Following Tuesday's hearing, the disciplinary panel agreed with the McConvilles that the substance had not been administered to enhance the horse's performance.

A statement issued by the BHA read: "We approached our decisions on the basis that neither Stephen nor Michael McConville had any real understanding of the components of the substances they administered to Anseanachai Cliste 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. That belief may well have been entirely misplaced in the case of the adrenal cortex injection.

"In respect of the Haemo 15 injection, the panel did not accept that they used this for the specific purpose of introducing cobalt into the horse's system, and in any event this type of product would not be used by a cheat intending to use cobalt for blood-improving purposes."

The case is the first in Britain concerning a positive test for cobalt, but there have been a number of high-profile cases in Australia.

The early admission of the pair meant the disqualifications were reduced from five years for Michael McConville and from four years for his father.

The BHA added: "While research surveys and regulatory analysis carried out in recent years were reassuring that there was no endemic issue with the use of cobalt at the time, it is an integrity and welfare threat that we are taking seriously and which is forming an important part of our anti-doping strategy."

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