TRAINERS ASSOCIATION DEMAND RACING AUS FIX THIS COBALT MESS
As cobalt positives keep inexplicably popping up, and as trainers continue to be served severe penalties, the rear-guard action has finally hit stride.
The Australian Trainers Association last Friday issued a letter of demand to Racing Australia and the various Principal Racing Authorities.
The RA board meets on August 29.
The “demand” in the ATA letter is that RA accepts that the original science – as accepted by Australian racing authorities – was dangerously flawed and that the penalty regime, established by a cobalt threshold, was equally flawed.
“We’ve been chipping away at this for 18 months and at least feel now that we are getting a hearing,” said Australian Trainers Association chief executive Andrew Nicholl.
Since the cobalt rule was introduced in 2014, quickly followed by the sensational cobalt sagas of Peter Moody, Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh, there have been over 350 cobalt positives across Australia’s three racing codes.
Over 100 have been in horse racing and about 20 of those have been in Victoria.
Earlier this week Mitch Freedman was notified of a cobalt positive of 111 micrograms per litre of urine and fellow Ballarat trainer Archie Alexander is awaiting further developments after a similar notification last December. Ditto trainer Mark Sues.
Matthew Leek, Belinda Dunn, Trevor Andrews and Monica Croston are among a group of trainers to receive suspensions of four to six months in recent times.
The ATA letter of demand comes as leading racing vets consolidate their position on cobalt at meetings today and yesterday and after a leading Queensland vet called for a complete overhaul to the racing industry’s position on cobalt.
Vet Derek Major said legitimate use of B12 vitamin supplements were creating “false positives”.
He said potential performance enhancing effects of cobalt were “wildly exaggerated” and that the Australian technique of testing for cobalt in urine instead of blood was flawed.
Queensland harness driver Darrel Graham was recently suspended for a year over a cobalt positive and Graham echoed dozens of trainers caught up in similar circumstances when he said “if I’d done it, I would have put my hand up and admit I’d done it.”
“But this thing is so much of a grey area. There are plenty of others in the same boat as me.”
Nicholl said other racing jurisdictions, like South Africa, New Zealand, England and Ireland had accepted cobalt’s “grey area” and reduced penalties accordingly. In his letter to RA, he urged the RA board to consider the approach overseas as a template for a new approach to cobalt here.
“We’ve seen it with a fine given to Lance O’Sullivan in New Zealand, also with Joseph O’Brien in Ireland and I note that three cobalt positives in South Africa were not pursued by authorities because of this increasing acknowledgement of a grey area,” Nicholl said.
Nicholl said the fact Australia penalised cortisone steroids and anti-inflammatory drug breaches with fines and cobalt positives with suspensions was “wrong.”
“The penalty mindset from 2014 is wrong,” Nicholl said.
Former Racing Victoria vet Brian Stewart admitted that initial theories that cobalt positives had to be caused by illegal intravenous treatments had been wrong.
But Stewart maintained positives caused by B12 and other supplements had to be caused by “mis-use” of those products, a claim disputed by vets and the ATA.
Racing Victoria has indicated it would be prepared to discuss a range of issues relating to cobalt early next week.