By: Adrian Dunn – @adriandunn2
MARK Kavanagh and Danny O’Brien, two of Australia’s more prominent and successful trainers tomorrow face career-defining moments when they appear before the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board on cobalt charges.
More than 10 months after investigations were first made public and five months after they were initially charged by Racing Victoria stewards, Kavanagh and O’Brien will present their answers to a combined total of 20 charges.
And, also fronting the RAD Board is Dr Tom Brennan, the one-time veterinarian for both Kavanagh and O’Brien, who faces 20 charges. Last week, Dr Brennan was disqualified by Racing NSW stewards for six years on a raft of charges relating to the Sam Kavanagh-trained Midsummer Sun returning an elevated cobalt level after winning the Gosford Cup on January 9. He has appealed that decision to the Racing NSW Appeals Panel.
Damian Sheales will represent both Kavanagh and O’Brien while Adrian Anderson, the former AFL Football Operations Manager, will represent Dr Brennan. Jeff Gleeson, QC, will prosecute for Racing Victoria.
In April 2014, Racing Victoria set a threshold level for cobalt of 200 micrograms per litre of urine. Racing Australia adopted that as a national threshold on January 1 this year.
Of the four charges faced by Kavanagh and O’Brien, the key charge is under Australian Rule of Racing 175 (h) (i), which alleges that “they administered or caused to be administered the prohibited substance of cobalt for the purpose of affecting the performance of a horse in a race”.
It is categorised by Racing Australia as a serious offence charge and carries with it a mandatory disqualification of three years if the charge is proved.
Earlier this month the RAD Board disqualified Kilmore-based trainer Lee Hope for three years and his son Shannon for five years after they were found guilty of breaching that rule. Both Hopes have appealed the decision to the Victoria Civil Administrative Tribunal and have been given a stay of proceedings to continue training pending the appeals.
Kavanagh’s charges relate to a post-race urine sample taken from his horse Magicool after it won the Listed UCI Stakes (1800 m) at Flemington on October 4, 2014.
The West Australian analytical laboratory, ChemCentre reported a cobalt level of 640 micrograms per litre of urine (with a 64 microgram measurement of uncertainty) with the Hong Kong Jockey Club Racing Laboratory reporting a level of 670.
Four horses trained by O’Brien—Caravan Rolls On, Bondeiger, De Little Engine and Bullpit—returned cobalt readings above the threshold.
Caravan Rolls recorded in a pre-race urine sample, before it ran eighth behind Signoff in the G3 Lexus Stakes (2500 m) at Flemington on November 1, 2014, a cobalt reading which ChemCentre detected at 350 micrograms (with a 35 microgram measurement of uncertainty) with the HKJCRL detecting a level of 380.
Bondeiger, in a pre-race urine sample, posted his cobalt reading after finishing second behind Preferment in the G1 Victoria Derby (2500 m) at Flemington on November 1, 2014. ChemCentre detected a cobalt reading of 330 micrograms per litre of urine (with a 33 microgram measurement of uncertainty) while the HKJCRL recorded a reading of 370.
De Little Engine, in a post-race urine sample after its win in a Benchmark 70 Handicap (2300 m) at Ballarat on November 22, 2014, returned an elevated cobalt reading. ChemCentre determined the cobalt level to be 550 (with a 55 microgram measurement of uncertainty) while the HKJCRL registered a reading of 580.
Bullpit, in a post-race urine sample after it won a BM70 Handicap (955 m) at Moonee Valley on December 19, 2014, returned a cobalt level detected by ChemCentre at 300 micrograms per litre of urine (with a 20 microgram measurement of uncertainty) while the HKJCRL registered a reading of 320.
Both Kavanagh and O’Brien also face a charge that their conduct or negligence led to or could have led to a breach of the Rule by Dr Brennan himself administering or causing to be administered cobalt to the horses.
Already, the cobalt saga has taken a heavy toll on both trainers.
Kavanagh, who trained Maldivian to win the 2008 Cox Plate and Shocking to win the 2009 Melbourne Cup, has trained10 winners this season with just two in the city. He trained a career-high 135 winners in the 2009-10 season. Last season he trained 37 winners, his smallest return since the 2006-07 season when he prepared 29 winners.
O’Brien, who trained Master O’Reilly to win the 2007 Caulfield Cup and Shamus Award to win the 2013 Cox Plate, has endured a similar season. He has trained 12 winners – including four in the city – after preparing 38 winners last season. O’Brien’s career best season was 2007-08 season when he trained 105 winners.
The RAD Board hearing will have an international video link up with several expert witnesses, and will begin at noon at RV headquarters.