Former Horse Racing Ireland boss rejects court judgment that ‘pressure’ was applied to regulator

Brian Kavanagh insists he stands over processes carried out by HRI board

The former boss of Horse Racing Ireland has said he stands over processes carried out by the semi-State body relating to its involvement in the long-running legal wrangle between the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA) and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s (IHRB) head of security Chris Gordon.

Last month the Court of Appeal dismissed an IRTA appeal against a High Court judgment in 2020 that awarded Gordon €300,000 in damages after his successful claim for defamation against the trainers’ body.

The High Court jury found that Gordon had been the subject of an “orchestrated and severe campaign” against his good name by the IRTA. He was also awarded legal costs which some estimates have put close to €2 million.

The Court of Appeal unanimously upheld those findings last month.


In his action, Gordon said he was defamed in a letter about his role in a stable inspection of trainer Liz Doyle’s yard in 2014. A letter from the IRTA’s solicitor to a senior steward of the IHRB (then called the Turf Club) falsely alleged Gordon tried to entrap Liz Doyle into an admission of wrongdoing.

The IHRB’s head of security also claimed that leading trainer Noel Meade, then IRTA chairman, defamed him in an article in the Irish Field newspaper in 2014 when he referred to his role in stable inspections.

During the lengthy legal process leading up to the 2020 High Court case, Gordon’s duties were restricted by the IHRB, including in relation to stable inspections.

The IHRB is the legislatively recognised independent regulator of Irish racing although it does receive funding from Horse Racing Ireland which governs the sport. There has always been a clear official distinction made between the roles carried out by both bodies.

Significantly, however, in the lengthy appeal judgment delivered by Justice Brian Murray, reference is made to how the IRTA had “successfully petitioned Horse Racing Ireland to exert pressure on the Turf Club to restrict Mr Gordon in his duties and prevent him from investigating trainers”.

Such a declaration appears to suggest a blurring of the lines between both bodies, a suggestion rejected on Monday by Brian Kavanagh who was at the helm of HRI for two decades as CEO until stepping down in 2021.

He said communication between the HRI board and the Turf Club related only to seeking clarifications over any potential legal case taken by Gordon against the trainers.

Asked about the Court of Appeal’s blunt characterisation of HRI exerting “pressure” on the regulator, Kavanagh said: “That’s not the case, clearly not the case. The facts are as I said; it was discussed at a HRI board meeting once [in 2015]. Clarifications were sought and received, end of story.”

Asked if he stood over the processes carried out by the HRI board at that time, he replied: “Absolutely – there’s no question in my mind.”

Kavanagh also insisted the distinction of roles between the IHRB and HRI were always respected.

The current HRI chief executive Suzanne Eade has declined to comment on the matter.

Separately, there is uncertainty about the financial implications of the Court of Appeal judgment, particularly in relation to the IRTA.

It is registered as a company limited by guarantee which theoretically means its liability is limited to five old punts per member. There are over 300 members of the IRTA.

Justice Murray’s judgment said the Gordon case had raised a number of legal questions such as “when a corporate body may be fixed with liability over statements made by one of its officers, when such a body will be liable for words spoken at a meeting arranged by it, and how a party can become liable for publications to, and letters issued by a solicitor on its behalf”.

In other news, confirmation that Jack Kennedy fractured his leg in a fall at Naas on Sunday leaves his participation at Cheltenham in nine weeks time up in the air.

The latest in the 23-year-old’s unfortunate run of injuries came when the ill-fated Top Bandit fell at the fourth fence in a chase won by Appreciate It. It is the fifth time Kennedy has suffered a leg fracture in his short but hugely successful career.

Currently on top of the jockeys’ championship, Kennedy’s immediate focus is on lingering hopes of recovering in time for the Cheltenham Festival.

Asked when he might be back, Kennedy’s agent, Kevin O’Ryan, said: “How long is a piece of string? Everybody heals differently. He’ll be doing his damnedest to be back as quickly as possible, but how long that will be, nobody knows.”

Kennedy has the pick of Gordon Elliott’s powerful string which includes prime Cheltenham contenders such as the unbeaten Grade One-winning novice chaser Mighty Potter and the Gold Cup hope Conflated.

The latter scored under the Kerry rider when landing the Savills Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival recently.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column