The conduct of racehorse trainers Mark Kavanagh and Danny O’Brien has been labelled “embarrassing” on the opening day of a hearing over allegations the trainers treated their horses with excessive levels of cobalt.
Kavanagh and O’Brien could face bans of several years if proven guilty of the charges.
“Their stories have changed so many times it’s embarrassing,” said lawyer Jeff Gleeson, who is representing Racing Victoria stewards.
The case is being heard by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board, and is expected to last five days.
In his opening address, Gleeson told the board O’Brien and Kavanagh had lost all credibility since the investigation started late last year.
“They knew what they were doing and that knowledge is revealed by the secrecy and the attempts to conceal…[information] from the stewards,” he said.
Kavanagh was charged after his horse Magicool returned an elevated cobalt reading after winning the UCI Stakes at Flemington last October.
O’Brien was charged after four of his horses (Caravan Rolls On, Bondeiger, De Little Engine, Bullpit) also recorded above-legal cobalt limits in November and December last year.
The pair face multiple charges in relation to each horse, with all charges carrying a maximum penalty of three years. They have both pleaded not guilty.
Cobalt is considered a performance-enhancing substance that boosts a horse’s stamina. It’s banned at levels above 200 micrograms per litre of urine.
Melbourne vet Tom Brennan has also been charged in relation to the Kavanagh and O’Brien cases. Gleeson told the board Brennan supplied each trainer with intravenous drips containing cobalt. But the lawyer representing Kavanagh and O’Brien, Damian Sheales, said Brennan cannot be trusted.
“The star witness for the prosecution is a defendant,” he said.
“The motives for Brennan lying about this are obvious.”
Brennan was given a six-year ban by Racing NSW in September after he was found guilty of 12 cobalt-related charges. Trainer Sam Kavanagh [son of Mark] was banned for nine years as part of the same case.
Earlier this month, Victoria’s RAD Board suspended father and son team Lee and Shannon Hope for several years after finding them guilty of using cobalt. Those suspensions have been put on hold until the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hears an appeal in February.