Trainer Mark Kavanagh (pictured) said he remained confident of having the findings overturned. Photo: Pat ScalaRacing’s cobalt saga has now claimed the careers of two more top trainers and a once-distinguished veterinary surgeon after the Racing And Disciplinary Appeals Board disqualified them on Wednesday.
Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Mark Kavanagh was given three years, fellow Flemington trainer Danny O’Brien four, and vet Tom Brennan five, All sat quietly as the sentences were announced.
The cobalt doping case is the biggest in Victoria’s long racing history. In fact, the scourge has wracked the sport nationally since cobaly was first introduced from the United States three years ago.
Cobalt has now all but ended or threatened the careers of five Victorian trainers. Lee and Shannon Hope were disqualified for three and five years respectively last December.
Peter Moody, once Australia’s leading trainer, has his own cobalt case returning to the appeals board next month and he too could face three years in the racing wilderness.
Cobalt was outlawed by Racing Victoria in April 2014 after intelligence was gathered that cobalt doping was occurring overseas and in harness racing in New South Wales.
Cobalt causes the body to produce more of its own EPO, so cobalt abuse is akin to EPO doping – the drug of choice for cheats.
The drug was put on racing’s totally banned or zero-tolerance drug list, meaning a positive swab would result in a mandatory three-year disqualification.
Disqualification means a person is banished from the sport, not allowed to go onto race courses, stables or have interaction with any licensed people.
While the penalty may seem harsh it is in keeping with doping penalties in other sports such as cycling and athletics where minimum bans of two years are given.
For the first time, veterinarians have been heavily implicated. Brennan has been associated with cobalt positives across two states and involving three trainers.
However, he has maintained that he did not know that the vitamin mix he was injecting into horses contained 170 times the normal concentration of cobalt in commercial vitamin mixes.
Before Christmas, Moody’s hearing was told that his vet, Peter Angus, routinely injected Moody’s horses intravenously with syringes yet he did not know the contents of the syringes.
There have been payments declared at the last minute from private bank accounts to individual veterinarians yet never put through any business account.
There have been denials of any treatment, the blaming of feed supplements but anything other than an admission of doping.
The trainers found guilty have said they will appeal to Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. But their reputations are forever tarnished as they have been found guilty of cheating by the RAD board, racing’s independent court.
O’Brien and Kavanagh briefly told the media after their guilty verdicts that they remain confident at having the findings overturned at VCAT later in the year.
These decisions must be seen as a massive victory for Racing Victoria’s integrity team headed by Terry Bailey and vet Brian Stewart, who embarked on a change of culture just four years ago.
Racing Victoria’s chairman David Moodie said that he and his board fully supported Bailey and his team and maintained respect for the RAD board.
Bailey confirmed to Fairfax Media on Wednesday that he was on annual leave and would return on February 1.