Luke Comer works with his brother Brian Comer to develop properties for the business the Comer Group. In spite of the fact that he resident in Monaco in order to avoid paying too much tax, billionaire Luke is also a horse trainer in Ireland and was recently issued with a three-year suspension to his licence after as many as 12 of the horses that he trains were found to have anabolic steroids in their system.
In addition to the suspension, Comer was also fined €60,000, plus a €5,000 additional fine for incorrectly saying that he had an unblemished record.
On top of the fines, Comer was also instructed to pay 80% of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s costs, which will be a fee that amounts to about £650,000. As for the 12 horses, they have been banned from running for two years. Comer, perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, denies that he or his staff had anything to do with the horses being doped, with some suggestions being that it might have been infected pig slurry that saw the drugs enter the bloodstream of the horses.
The investigating board did say that there was no ‘direct evidence’ of deliberate doping.
Who Is Luke Comer?
Coming from the Glenamaddy area of County Galway in Ireland, Luke Comer was born in the November of 1957. He left school in his early teens, taking up a job as a plasterer. He moved to London in 1984 with his brother Brian, with the pair making the decision to move into property development. Their focus initially shifted to Germany, then in 2010 they started developing property in their native Ireland as they sought value for money. During a six-month period between November 2015 and April 2016, the pair invested as much as €75 million in property across the UK, Ireland and Germany.
The 2023 Sunday Times Rich List said that the paid had a net worth of £913 million. Luke Comer had become fascinated with horses when he was a plasterer and worked on a stable for Vincent O’Brien, the legendary trainer. The wealth that he gained through his property development allowed him to follow his dream of being involved in horse racing himself, including sponsoring the Comer Group International Irish St Leger at the Curragh. He didn’t get a winner during his first seven seasons in racing, but in 2017 he was hit with a €50,000 fine by the IHRB for regulation breaches.
Those breaches included not allowing officials from the Irish Horeracing Regulatory Board to enter his yard, not keeping his medicine register up to date and representatives giving false or incorrect information about the whereabouts of some horses. In 2020, however, Comer trained He Knows No Fear to win at Leopardstown with odds of 300/1, making it the longest-price winner in British and Irish racing.
Having had just 31 winners from 893 runners across four seasons, it is fair to say that Luke Comer’s success rate as a trainer isn’t as good as he might have hoped when he entered the industry.
What Has Happened
In May of 2023, there was a nine-day hearing into the possible doping of 12 horses under the care of Luke Comer. The man himself strenuously denied any wrongdoing by either him or his staff, allegedly spending as much as €1.4 million to fight the charges that were brought forward by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.
There was no point at which Comer denied that traces of methandienone and methyltestosterone, anabolic steroids, had been found in the hair of horses from his yard when unannounced testing was carried out at his Kiltiernan stables back in 2021.
A referrals committee panel was established by the IHRB, but it failed to establish how the substances had made their way into the horses, with no evidence of deliberate doping having been found. As the licence holder, however, the ultimate responsibility for the situation lay with Comer. That is in spite of the fact that he told the panel that he spends just three months of the year in Ireland, with the Sunday Times Rich List trainer spending the majority of his time in Monaco.
The IHRB has been using hair testing in its strategy around anti-doping since 2016.
What Comer’s Said About Things
It won’t be all that surprising for you to learn that Luke Comer has denied any wrongdoing. He said
“I did not ever under any circumstances administer anything to our horses, only good food and vitamins and minerals and necessary medications if they are sick. I will not stand for any kind of injustice. I will use whatever resources I have to make sure that whoever does any damage to my reputation will pay. I am one thousand per cent innocent. I have never been more right in my life. These 12 horses were all the best horses we had — all capable of winning. Some did win and tested negative on blood and urine afterwards.”
Comer went on,
“I spend €10 million a year on horses, breeding, training —everything — and I spent €8 million on sports sponsorships in Ireland in the last five years. I get back about €200,000 from horses. I am not in the game for money. I don’t train horses for anybody else. I train them for myself. Do you think I would take the bread out of small trainers’ mouths? I don’t want to win small races — full stop. I don’t care. If a horse ran well, I would rather the money would go to a smaller trainer whose livelihood depended on it.”
He suggested that contaminated pig slurry might have been responsible.
He’ll Be Banned From Next Year
As you might imagine, Comer has confirmed that he plans to appeal the decision to ban him from racing for three years. As things currently stand, the ban won’t come into effect until the first of January 2024, meaning that he can continue to operate as a trainer in the meantime. It means that the case is likely to drag on for some time yet, which may result in the first of January suspension being deferred until later in the year, once the appeal process is complete. At the moment, it isn’t clear exactly what Comer will be appealing against, given the number of options open to him.
He could, for example, appeal the severity of the penalties, or he could choose to appeal against the entire judgement. Which one he opts for might well influence how long the appeal process takes. For some in horse racing, the ban isn’t long enough.
Ronan McNally was given a 12-year disqualification earlier this year, for example, whilst Mahmood Al Zarooni was banned for eight years. The Al Zarooni case is different on account of the fact that he admitted giving 15 horses anabolic steroids, whereas Comer denies any wrongdoing and no evidence of deliberate doping was found.