Sulky racing ponies doped-up on dangerous performance enhancing drugs says insider

There are fears owners will do anything to ensure their horse wins, with thousands of euro often riding on the outcome of sulky races

Eamon Dillon

A sulky-racing insider has said ponies used in the illegal road races are regularly given dangerous performance-enhancing drugs.

The underground sport is dominated by people with serious criminal connections and takes place on public roads, often in highly dangerous circumstances.

Animal welfare activists say the sport is cruel and horses used in the races often suffer injuries which are treated with substances banned from official equine sports.

"If you look at some of the horses running on the road, they're quite young. Their bones haven't finished growing," said a source.

"Basically, their bones are soft and they are running them on hard surfaces. There are times they would be out training and would not always be shod."

Substances known to be used include anabolic steroids, illegal painkillers and EPO growth hormones.

"Horses have a large spleen, which is reservoir of red blood cells - they carry the oxygen and the more oxygen you can get around the system, the better."

"When a horse is in competition, its spleen contracts and pumps out more red blood cells - and that thickens the blood and that puts more pressure back on the heart.

"If you put EPO on top that, the blood is like grease - that's why some of these horses die when they're on EPO, they get pulmonary hemorrhages and heart attacks."

There are fears owners will do anything to ensure their horse wins, with thousands of euro often riding on the outcome of sulky races.

"Also used are bronchial dilators, which open up airways and blood vessels - which means the ponies can metabolise aerobically for longer," said our source.

"It's imported from Argentina and you can give it to the horse every half hour - there's no therapeutic advantage to this, there's no condition that requires it. This is just out-and-out doping."

The side effects of such drugs include kidney and stomach problems.

The regulation surrounding horse ownership is "very weak" and there's no requirement to notify the State if a horse has been sold on, which makes it hard for owners to be held accountable.

"There have been cases in the past when horses have been seized by the Department of Agriculture and, after legal action, they end up having to give them back."

It is not only the horses which appear to have been given drugs - in one video of a sulky crash, it is suggested the driver was using cocaine.

After the driver falls off on a country road, narrowly missing an oncoming car, a voice in the following car is heard to remark: "F**king r*****d. That's the coke, giving him drugs."

The danger posed to members of the public was dramatically highlighted after a video recently emerged of one of the most reckless races yet seen.

Even one of the spectators there to watch the race admits there "will be war" over the antics of the drivers trying to follow the racing sulkies on the N20 in Co. Limerick two weeks ago.

At least a dozen vehicles were stretched across the road, side-by-side, with another string of cars driving the same direction but on the opposite hard-shoulder against on-coming traffic.

People hanging from the windows holding mobile phones can be seen carrying out high-risk overtaking manoeuvres in a bid to get into a better position to watch the race.

A spectator, standing on an overpass bridge to watch the race can be heard to say: "The boys were told not to overtake, there's going to be war here now."

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