Doping case casts cloud over jump racing's showpiece at Cheltenham
Jump racing's showpiece The Cheltenham Festival gets under way on Tuesday but the 2014 edition will be known as the "year of the cloud" according to leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins because of a doping case involving another Irish handler.
Philip Fenton, who will saddle Irish hope Last Instalment, owned by Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, in the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, is facing a court case after anabolic steroids were allegedly found at his yard two years ago. He denies any wrongdoing.
His horses were cleared to run last week by the British Horseracing Authority after officers carried out emergency dope tests.
"Lots of people have missed the fact that it has put a cloud over our game in the biggest festival of the year," Mullins said. "That's what it will be known as - the year of the cloud.
"People in racing are in a bubble. We don't look out. But if this was another sport we would say, 'Yeah, they're all at it'.
"We don't realise that people will be saying the same about us. There are so many other sports and things people can put their money into. So we have to mind our game," added the 57-year-old.
Mullins said he was worried that some of his leading fancies could be targeted by punters hoping to nobble his horses with sedatives.
"We have some very fancied horses and it would make a lot of money for someone if they were going to Cheltenham and they could alter the course of events."
One of those stable stars, legendary hurdler Hurricane Fly will bid to get the meeting off to a great start with a third Champion Hurdle win on Tuesday. If successful it would see the 10-year-old extend his world record in Grade One races to 20 victories.
His main rivals look to be another Irish runner in Our Conor, who is half his age at five and won the Triumph Hurdle at the festival last year in terrific style, and English duo My Tent or Yours and The New One.