THE BOMBSHELL decision to uphold the appeals by trainers Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh in the multi million dollar cobalt enquiry has thrown the Victorian racing industry into tumult.
It was a decision generally not expected and became a topic of much hostile debate.
An ebullient O’Brien in an amazing public outburst boasted his “complete innocence” and audaciously labelled the chief steward of Victoria Terry Bailey a liar.
But any popping of champagne by the trainers might be a tad premature.
Racing Victoria, which has reputedly spent $6m in pursuit of these trainers (whose horses mind you returned cobalt reading of 100 times over the normal and accepted limit), is seriously considering an appeal to the Supreme Court which, of course, might take a totally different view to Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal judge Greg Garde who found “The procedure for testing for cobalt in equine urine... departed from the requirements in the rules of racing".
"The legal consequence is that the test results are inadmissible,” he said.
O’Brien and Kavanagh were appealing a four and three year disqualification handed down by Racing Victoria’s RAD last year.
Both trainers have claimed they did not know the contents of a bottle administered to their horses by their vet. They also claimed they did not know the cobalt content in a bottle of vitamins.
O'Brien has also accused RV of bullying and intimidation but singled out chief steward Terry Bailey for most criticism.
He has called on Racing Minister Martin Pakulato step in and “fix the mess”.
Racing Victoria acting CEO Giles Thompson said the organisation was surprised and disappointed, but pointed out the decision had been made on a technicality.
“These horses had a reading of cobalt nearly 100 times over an average natural cobalt reading,” he said.
Besides, of course, there is a rule that states a trainer is responsible for any horse that goes to the races with a banned treatment or substance.
It doesn’t matter who administered it.
Not surprisingly, Peter Moody, also disqualified over excessive cobalt reading but did not appeal, said he would be reconsider his position in the wake of the ruling.
Moody said it was too early to make any decisions. "I am just playing a straight bat to all questions and seeing what happens.”
Thompson said Racing Victoria was also considering its options.
"It was entirely appropriate that Racing Victoria prosecuted this case, and it was proven to be such at the RAD hearing that found the duo guilty last year.
“We have lost an appeal case at VCAT on the basis of a technicality around the interpretation of a specific rule of racing," he said.
Said O’Brien: "We are going to read the judgement. The summary from Garde was very strong that we were completely innocent and Racing Victoria has got issues.”
Completely innocent is an interpretation of the decision that could be argued.
One thing is certain, however. The cobalt saga is not over yet. We await news of an appeal to the Supreme Court by Racing Victoria or a compensation claim by the two trainers.
The only winner?
Lawyers, of course.
“JOURNALISTS never want to be the centre of their own story. They never want to betray sources, or disclose how they received sensitive information. But sometimes the situation becomes so complex, the misinformation surrounding a controversial subject so great and the stakes so high, that they have to take action.”
Those are the words of leading Fairfax racing writer Patrick Bartley, arguably the best and most respected in the country. It is a must read from the pages of Saturday’s The Age providing an insight to the intrigue of racing, the personalities and, yes the Melbourne press. A guide to who you might want to believe...
“Reluctantly I became an actor in the long-running drama that is the Victorian racing cobalt case for one simple reason: I could not stand by and watch a chain of mistruths, half truths and equivocal statements go unchallenged.
“I could not stand back and see an innocent person – chief steward Terry Bailey – become a victim of innuendo and have his record besmirched by gossip and worse as those at the heart of the investigation sought to muddy the waters and evade responsibility in a case that has already dragged on far too long.
“And that is why I have outed myself as a key player in the saga of the now former RVL chairman David Moodie, the former trainer Peter Moody and the two other trainers at the heart of the cobalt probe, Danny O'Brien and Mark Kavanagh.
“I was the man who told Moodie that the two latter trainers were facing cobalt charges and led to the chain of events that saw him stand down and be fingered on Friday by Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna as the person who tipped off Moody that his two former colleagues were likely to face charges.
“An RVL press release issued late on Thursday night sought to provide Moodie with cover, saying that he was not the ‘prime source’ of the leak about Kavanagh and O'Brien.
“He might not have been, but he certainly revealed that information subsequently, having been told of it by me.
“This is the chain of events, and how I became a protagonist in a scandal that has already claimed two high-profile figures and is yet to play out.
“Leading up to Christmas in 2014 I was given explosive information that Caulfield-based Moody, the man best known for his deeds with the unbeaten mare Black Caviar, and well-known Flemington trainers O'Brien and Kavanagh, were all being investigated for cobalt irregularities.
“I was entrusted with this information a little over three weeks before Moody's situation was made public.
“The condition for me receiving this material was that I would never release the details until they became public knowledge. I was reminded that the investigations were on-going and sensitive and if any inkling of this material was made public it could well abort any inquiry.
“Early in January 2015, I received a phone call from RV board member Moodie, a confidant of mine, who told me that Peter Moody had excluded me from a press conference he was having at the time declaring his innocence to a cobalt irregularity.
“I had discovered that a select group of journalists, who would be favourable to Moody's cause, were hand picked to report this matter.
“I rewarded Moodie's tip-off by essentially trading information with him, telling him that his trainer Moody was not the only one with the serious cobalt issues and that he would be joined soon by Kavanagh and O'Brien.
“I assumed David Moodie, in his position as a board member, would understand the sensitivity of such privileged information.
“As the cobalt situation evolved I was concerned that some sources at Racing Victoria were reporting that chief steward Bailey was in danger of losing his job because he was being wrongly accused of being my source inside RV.
“I was aware that a core of the media were frantic to tarnish Bailey's reputation and target me at the same time.
“Bailey was never my source and I could not let him be wrongly convicted, therefore I volunteered to make a statement to the integrity council and then subsequently to racing integrity commissioner Sal Perna's investigation.
“And in doing so I forwarded my telephone records and any other information requested by Perna.
So while Moodie would appear not to be the prime source of the leak to Moody and other people, including me, had possession of this information – some for as long as three or four weeks – none of these other individuals tipped off the trainers under investigation.
“Moodie's tip off to Moody, who then warned O'Brien and Kavanagh, no doubt damaged RV's integrity department's investigation.
“Kavanagh and O'Brien were warned by Moody before the stewards raided them. This had the potential to allow these two trainers to prepare an explanation for the elevated cobalt readings shown by their horses, or dispose of sensitive evidence.
“The stewards' element of surprise, an important part of any investigation, was lost.
“There was little doubt that critical evidence was disposed of. At the RAD board hearings into the cobalt cases we heard that Dr Tom Brennan – O'Brien and Kavanagh's vet – disposed of his cobalt containing a "special vitamin mix" in a dump master at Flemington racecourse.”
CLOSER to home we had yet another absurd case of a horse scratched by a vet at the races, but the connections forced to pay the jockey’s fee.
Richmond trainer Shyn Royes is, like most licensees in country Queensland, a battling trainer who devotes endless hours and energy into racing – and without whom there simply wouldn’t be as many race meetings.
She loaded her horse Head Dragon on the float last Saturday for the long and dusty four hours drive in heatwave conditions to Mt Isa. On arrival the horse was lame. She sought the vet and the horse was eventually scratched. Naturally saddened and somewhat disillusioned by events she filled the horse with pain killer and headed for the long and lonely trip home. It was a fruitless trip and all she was left with was the receipts for exes.
Then she was told by Racing Queensland she must also pay the jockey’s fee of $195.
It only happens in Queensland. And it shouldn’t happen anywhere.
The jockey is entitled to be paid, but surely not by the trainer if a horse was scratched by the club vet.
Then there is a case of Ronnie Finch, the Townsville trainer who had a fourth emergency for a race at Mackay last week. He was told on Thursday morning as he breezed through Ayr that the horse Our Receipt had gained a start.
“Too late – she was back home in her box,” said the trainer.
Too bad – it cost Finchey $300 for acceptance and jockey fees.
And another Cairns trainer nominated two horses for the recent washed out Cannon Park meeting. He scratched them before acceptances but was charged nomination fee for each horse ($65) for a meeting that was later abandoned. It was in fact deducted from his prizemoney.
Little wonder there are more people getting out of the game than requesting a licence.