Cobalt, altrenogest resolutions edge closer

Racing Australia may soon be in the position to rule on the status of the regulations surrounding both the prohibited substance cobalt and the controversial mares' medication altrenogest.

RA chairman Greg Nichols told RSN927's Racing Pulse that the August 29 quarterly meeting is expected to examine a detailed report on cobalt from the Veterinary Advisory Committee, as well as a letter from the Australian Trainers' Association questioning the industry's current position on cobalt.

But Nichols, who is also a director of Racing Victoria, said the views in the letter from ATA chief executive Andrew Nicholl that minor cobalt offences should be downgraded to the level of other therapeutic medications, resulting in fines rather than bans, may be premature in light of a current study.

"He (Nicholl) makes some claims that haven't been validated in my mind - and certainly not the directors of RA at this point in time," Nichols said.

"If they are validated, there will be a serious contemplation of what he's put forward.

"But why make an injudicious decision without understanding the full implications and the full science behind it.

"We are not sitting on our hands. VAC met yesterday and they will provide an expert analysis to RA and I am sure that will strongly feature in our discussions next week.

"I truly believe a thorough examination of the issue is critical."

Nichols said he did not necessarily agree with Nicholl's claims that the science around cobalt was misunderstood.

"You make judgements on the information put in front of you at the time and I am yet to be convinced that the evidence is totally extinguished," Nichols said.

"But an open mind is the best attribute an administrator can have to ensure that you represent current facts.

"As we know at the moment, the Veterinary Advistory Committee has not made any recommendation up until yesterday and I haven't been briefed what the outcomes of that meeting were.

"But they have not signified to us that there is any need for us to reappraise our position on cobalt.

"We've got rules in place at the moment and I don't believe that you suspend them until such time there are results on the table that tell you that there needs to be a refinement of the rule.

"Until such time, people know the rule and we expect them to abide by it. If that rule changes in the future, the same thing applies. Abide by the rule. If it is lax compared to now, fine and if it is more stringent, then compliance is what we expect from people."

As for altrenogest, which was found to have traces of banned steroids in its commercial form of Regumate, Nichols said RA would be in a better position to make an assessment of the treatment after a world meeting of horse racing officials in October.

Currently, racehorse trainers in NSW can use Regumate on mares to control their cycles following the implementation of a local rule by Racing NSW that declares the traces of steroids are inconsequential.

All other states, however, have confirmed the policy of drug-free racing and have banned use of the product.

Nichols said a paper would be tabled at a Paris conference in October that deals with the potential future use of Regumate.

"I have got an International Federation (of Horseracing Authorities) meeting in Paris in early October and at that time the French were conducting a study that they have promised to table at that particular meeting and that will be a very important element in any further elaboration of Regumate," Nichols said.

Nichols said the time delay in ruling on Regumate was irritating for some in the racing industry but he added: "I know it's very laborious but the idea is to not get things wrong.

"The idea is to go through and come up with the right outcome and I am hoping that after the IFHA meeting I will report back to RA and if we need to act immediately then that can be the case.

"I can't see Victoria changing their position and I am not hearing any utterings from other states that they are willing to pre-empt the decision and the analysis that are going to be tabled at the Paris conference."

Nichols hinted the laws around drug-free racing were not softening around the world.

"The view for me is - and this is a personal perspective - society is moving to a drug-free regime and the tolerance of applying therapeutics to enhance performance is diminishing day by day and that's a guiding principal," Nichols said.

"I wouldn't want to see thoroughbred racing go against the grain of contemporary thinking along those lines but at the same time, if the French come down with a study that says it is performance-enhancing then RA's position will be very assertive."

Nichols said the August 29 meeting would also address the matter of whip use.

"Day one of our meeting next week is dedicated to strategy for RA and the issues that occupy the gold medal position is animal welfare and the silver medal closely followed by is integrity," he said.

"They are the fundamentals in our sport. RA has a very significant role in the oversight of both of those very critical issues and we are not doing it simply to appease the irrational-at-times commentary on horse racing.

"We are doing it because there is an inherent love of the animal within our sport and a recognition as a star athlete - just as our jockeys are - that they warrant a very strong and forceful program of measure to ensure they are not compromised."