By: Adam Pengilly
Expect at least one trainer to make representations to have a previous penalty quashed in the wake of three others escaping without charge from the ibuprofen mess in the past week.
Gary Portelli was the first trainer in NSW to come under the microscope for a positive to the anti-inflammatory when his ageing gelding Za Magic returned it in a swab in late 2014. The horse had finished ninth in a Rosehill race.
Portelli had never fronted stewards over a prohibited substance breach in 23 years up until then. Understandably, he was devastated and could provide no explanation as to how it entered the horse’s system. Stewards fined him $6000, reduced to $3000 on appeal.
It was later discovered Za Magic, previously trained by Portelli’s then Victorian-based brother Troy, had been sent to Lee Evison’s rehabilitation facility where it was fed an ibuprofen regime.
“I’ll be asking to get the same exoneration as the other trainers,” said Portelli after Kris Lees, Darren Weir and Luke Oliver all escaped charges during the week.
“We turned our place inside out trying to work out how it happened and it was a real worry. We thought, ‘We’ve got a positive and we’ve got no idea how it happened’.
“I was hoping to retire with a clean slate and be known to play by the rules. It’s not so much the money, it’s more about my integrity.”
Portelli will lodge an application with Racing NSW this week to have the charge overturned and the penalty reimbursed.
Now to the interesting point. What have trainers now got to lose, knowing a precedent has been set in regards to penalty?
The racing careers of many an ibuprofen-fed horse are thought to be in the balance. Owners are the real losers, completely and utterly hopeless in knowing if their horse will return a positive after any race.
Retiring chief steward Ray Murrihy labelled ibuprofen “complex” and with “no pattern” of knowing when an elevated level will turn up. The science surrounding it is virtually non-existent. Lees thought illegal levels were being found when horses race over longer distances.
For owners prizemoney can be won – and lost – in an instant. A winner one week, disqualified the next. But what are they to be scared of when mulling whether to run their horses or not now.
They have virtually been given a green light to go for their lives racing horses known to be caught up in the ibuprofen net with no fear of charges and penalties coming back to bite their trainer. It’s open slather.
But how many more disqualifications will follow?