By: Mark Russell
A Supreme Court judge has cleared Mornington trainer Mark Riley over claims he used a prohibited substance on a racehorse in a decision expected to have widespread ramifications for the racing industry across Australia.
An ecstatic Mr Riley told Fairfax Media after the judgment was handed down on Thursday that his life had been on hold for more than 14 months while he fought to clear his name.
Mr Riley said the case had been an incredible strain on both him and his family but he always believed he would be vindicated.
“This is a win not just for myself but for all trainers throughout Victoria and Australia,” he said.
Mr Riley had been banned in February for three years by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board after being found guilty of a bicarbonate charge for presenting his horse Gold For Kev for a race at Sandown on July 13, 2014, with a prohibited substance in its system – an elevated total carbon dioxide (TCO2) level.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal upheld the board’s decision but the trainer took his case against Racing Victoria to the Supreme Court and Justice Kevin Bell on Thursday upheld his appeal, saying Mr Riley should be completely exonerated.
In his judgment, Justice Bell said blood samples taken from Gold for Kev after the July 13, 2014, race were tested by two laboratories for the presence of prohibited substances above the maximum level permitted.
“Adjusted for measurement uncertainty, the result reported by one laboratory was that a prohibited substance was present in the blood in a concentration just above the maximum level, but that result had been rounded up,” the judge said.
“So adjusted, the result reported by the other laboratory was that the substance was clearly not present in a concentration above the maximum level.”
Justice Bell said Mr Riley submitted after being charged by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board that he should not be found guilty of breaching the rules given the first test results had been rounded up, and the second test was negative but the board disagreed.
The judge said the basis of the charges brought against Mr Riley and upheld by VCAT was that the horse’s blood contained ‘alkalinising agents’ which were defined as ‘prohibited substances’.
But he said Mr Riley had established that VCAT had erred in law in two respects.
“First, it misinterpreted the rules by deciding that a person could be found guilty and penalised upon the basis of rounded-up laboratory results,” the judge said.
“Second, it took into account scientific evidence that was incapable of proving, or assisting in proving, that the person was guilty. Although two errors of law have been established, the common feature of both is a misinterpretation of the rules.”
Justice Bell said disqualification was a serious penalty affecting a horse trainer’s ability to carry out his job, and the court had to pay particular regard to the consequences of any ban.
“As the rules, properly interpreted, did not permit a disqualification to be imposed upon the basis of rounded-up test results and the scientific evidence was incapable of supporting a finding of guilt, Mr Riley should be completely exonerated.”
The judge ordered Racing Victoria pay Mr Riley’s legal costs.
A Racing Victoria spokesman said it would review the judge’s findings before determining whether to lodge an appeal.
If the organisation did decide to take the unprecedented step of continuing to pursue the long-running case against Mr Riley, it could end up before the state’s highest court – the Court of Appeal.
Fairfax Media understands the racing industry has been stunned by Thursday’s judgment and its possible ramifications for the testing of racehorses for prohibited substances.
with Patrick Bartley