By: Adam Pengilly
Paul Murray has blamed Peter Holz, a former owner of his family’s prolific Kembla Grange stable, for supplying a product thought to be at the centre of a cobalt probe after Racing NSW stewards issued eight charges against the trainer on Thursday.
Murray claimed he had no knowledge of how a bottle – labelled “concentrated trace mineral” and described in the inquiry as having “the highest concentration” of cobalt seen in the state – was found during a routine race-day inspection of his premises in June 2014.
It had appeared in a stable fridge as one of two items Racing NSW surveillance and intelligence officers seized on the day.
Murray said a similar looking bottle had previously been recommended to him by long-time stable owner and syndicate head Holz, which the trainer used on stable star Alma’s Fury before he returned excessive cobalt levels in two autumn carnival races the year before.
Alma’s Fury’s returned a level of 391 micrograms per litre of urine from a swab before his 2013 Apollo Stakes win and later was found to have a reserve sample of 940 micrograms per litre in urine after running second in the Doncaster Prelude.
Murray said Holz owed the family business – which also includes licensed trainers in his father Bede, brother Graeme and partner Michelle Ritchie – “about $80,000”, but had not been in contact after the fallout.
Stewards’ attempts to track down Holz have been unsuccessful.
Chief steward Ray Murrihy told the inquiry a series of phone calls were exchanged between Holz and disqualified trotting trainer Shannon Wonson, the man who supplied disqualified Newcastle trainer Darren Smith with cobalt, in the weeks before the Apollo Stakes.
Smith has been banned for 15 years over a string of cobalt offences.
Murray has agreed to hand over his phone to stewards for forensic examination.
But he told the inquiry Wonson only ever visited his premises on one occasion to use the stable swimming pool for his horses, but Murray later told him he was not welcome after rumours suggested he was shopping cobalt to thoroughbred trainers.
He said Holz had bought a product early in 2013 off the internet and said “everyone’s using the bottle and to give it a go”.
Murray said he disposed it of it after using it as part of a drip on three horses in the stable, including Alma’s Fury.
The contents of the bottle Racing NSW investigators took months later, unregistered and without any veterinary information on a label, were later said to have contained “double the concentration of any cobalt product we’ve seen”.
On the matter of Holz’s recommendation to use his purchase, Murrihy asked Murray: “Wouldn’t that ring a warning bell? What expertise did Mr Holz have in the veterinary area? There’s no vet label or registered label. Wouldn’t that seem risky in the extreme?”
Responded Murray: “Yes, but I just took his word.”
Said Murrihy: “You’re a very experienced trainer and you’ve grown up in a great family of trainers. It astounds me you would make no further inquiries.”
Murray denied he was “in the same situation” as Smith, when it was put to him by Murrihy.
Murray claims he had no knowledge of how the bottle presented at the inquiry appeared in his fridge and it was not there when he had placed some prawns on the same shelf at 3.30am that morning.
“If that bottle was there right in front of the prawns
The hearing into the eight charges will begin on a date to be fixed next month