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Racing Victoria statement on VCAT Cobalt Decision
17 Mar 2017 | Racing Victoria 

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on Friday announced its decision in favour of the review applications by trainers Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh against bans for administering cobalt to racehorses.

In December 2015, Racing Victoria’s (RV) independent Racing Appeals and Disciplinary (RAD) Board found O'Brien and Kavanagh guilty of administering cobalt to racehorses, banning them from training for four and three years, respectively.

RV Acting CEO, Giles Thompson, said RV was disappointed with the decision and would review VCAT’s reasons before deciding the next course of action.

“Throughout this issue, our fundamental concern has been to take appropriate steps to protect the integrity of Victorian thoroughbred racing and to protect the welfare of horses. Where the rules of racing are breached, it is our job to take the appropriate action to enforce the rules,” Mr Thompson said.

“It is important to remember that we took action because the horses involved returned cobalt readings that were excessively above the legal threshold that was set to protect both the integrity of the sport and the welfare of the horses,” he said.

Since the cobalt threshold was introduced on 1 April, 2014 until 31 January 2017, nearly 9,750 race-day samples have been taken and 99.83% have not breached the rules. The average level of cobalt in those horses was 7.4 mcg/litre, while the cobalt levels of the horses in the Kavanagh/O’Brien cases ranged from 300 to 670 mcg/litre.

In his judgment, Justice Garde found RV was entitled to bring proceedings against the trainers and to defend the appeal to VCAT. “There is nothing about RVL’s conduct of the proceedings before the Tribunal that might constitute an abuse of process,” Justice Garde found. He also rejected the trainers’ claim that stewards had an obligation to advise trainers of the adverse results of screening tests.

Justice Garde found the horses had been administered a substance by veterinarian Dr Tom Brennan that contained high concentration of cobalt chloride but was not satisfied that the trainers were aware the cobalt had been administered. He also found that the procedure for testing for cobalt in equine urine adopted by RV substantially departed from the requirements set out in the rules and was therefore inadmissible.

“We will review the decision. What won’t change is our commitment to protecting the integrity of the sport and ensuring all people engaged in Victorian racing and all horses can compete on a level playing field.

“Despite today’s decision, we will continue to ensure Victorian racing is conducted with the highest integrity. Our responsibility is to continue to take action to protect the integrity of an industry that provides the equivalent of 20,000 full-time jobs and drives more than $2.1 billion in annual economic activity,” he said.

Mr Thompson praised the work of RV's Integrity Services team who he said had worked tirelessly to protect the integrity of the sport and the welfare of horses.

“I want to personally thank our Integrity Services staff and our stewards led by Terry Bailey. They have had a challenging time in carrying out their role of protecting the integrity of the sport. We owe them a debt of gratitude for the way they have enforced the rules without fear or favour to ensure Victoria continues to enjoy its reputation as the premier racing jurisdiction,” he said.

Mr Thompson said RV would comment further when it had had an opportunity to review in depth the reasons for VCAT’s decision.
 
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