Leading horse trainers Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh have won an appeal against their doping bans after a Victorian tribunal ruled Racing Victoria did not follow proper testing protocols.
In January last year O’Brien was given a four-year ban and Kavanagh was suspended for three years by the Racing and Appeals Disciplinary Board.
Today the bans were overturned by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which found Racing Victoria had substantially departed from proper cobalt testing procedures between April 2014 and August 2015.
Four horses being trained by O’Brien and one under the watch of Kavanagh recorded excessive levels of cobalt in 2014.
Cobalt works in a similar way to the performance-enhancing drug EPO, boosting the horse’s red blood cells and therefore its endurance.
It can also occur naturally in horses, but at a very low level.
VCAT Judge Greg Garde was satisfied the trainers were not aware veterinarian Dr Tom Brennan had administered the cobalt to the horses in a pre-race drip.
He said O’Brien and Kavanagh were not negligent in relying on the vet to administer the drips.
Dr Brennan was last year found guilty of administering the cobalt to the horses and banned.
O’Brien calls for racing overhaul in Victoria
Outside the tribunal, O’Brien said he and Kavanagh had never intended to break the rules and they had been vindicated.
He said Racing Victoria had vilified and bullied them and their families.
He also said the decision “had thrown a light on the behaviour of Racing Victoria, the breaches of the rules that they in fact have engineered throughout this process”.
“It’s time [Victorian Racing Minister] Martin Pakula took a hard look at what’s happening in the racing industry in this state.”
O’Brien said he had not ruled out taking legal action.
Racing Victoria acting chief executive officer Giles Thompson said the organisation was disappointed with the decision and would review VCAT’s reasons before deciding the next course of action.
Kavanagh said the emotional and financial toll on him had been “incredible”, and his training operations had been reduced to about 20 per cent of what they were before the charges.
Mr Pakula said changes to governance and integrity at Racing Victoria were already underway following a review of the industry.
“I can understand why Mr O’Brien is very animated this morning … but I don’t intend to get in the middle of a spat between a trainer and the [Raving Victoria] integrity department,” he said.
“If they [the integrity department] are going to pursue matters that they believe need to be pursued, no matter how high profile the subject of that is, then they are going to upset people from time to time.”
Kavanagh, O’Brien heavy-hitters in Australian racing
After being handed their suspensions, O’Brien and Kavanagh immediately lodged an appeal at VCAT.
Both trainers have runners at Flemington on Saturday.
In December last year, Racing Victoria chairman David Moodie resigned after it was revealed he gave Kavanagh information about the cobalt investigation.
Kavanagh and O’Brien are two of the biggest names in Australian horse racing.
Kavanagh trained Shocking to a Melbourne Cup win in 2009, and they have both won the Cox Plate.
O’Brien also won the 2007 Caulfield Cup with Master O’Reilly.
In March last year another high-profile trainer, Peter Moody, was cleared of deliberately administering cobalt to one of his horses, but was found guilty of a lesser charge.