By: Brent Zerafa
Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh have escaped any form of suspension or disqualification in relation to the cobalt saga, with VCAT President Justice Greg Garde electing to issue a fine to both trainers.
O’Brien has been $8000, or $2000 for each horse under his care that tested positive to cobalt, while Kavanagh has been fined $4000.
All five horses have now been disqualified, with Justice Garde ordering that placings can be altered for the following races:
- Magicool (Kavanagh) – UCI Stakes (1st) – October 4, 2014 at Flemington;
- Caravan Rolls On (O’Brien) – Lexus Stakes (8th) – November 1, 2014 at Flemington;
- Bondeiger (O’Brien) – Victoria Derby (2nd) – November 1, 2014 at Flemington;
- De Little Engine (O’Brien) – Benchmark 70 (1st) – November 22, 2014 at Ballarat; and
- Bullpit (O’Brien) – 3YO Benchmark 70 (1st) – December 19, 2014 at Moonee Valley.
Both trainers were found guilty of presenting their horses to the races with elevated levels of cobalt beyond the legal threshold but were not charged with knowingly administering any illegal substance.
“If we had been charged with presentation in the first place, the matter would have been over in two weeks,” O’Brien said.
“We would have pleaded guilty and paid the fine.
“Instead we have been pursued for three years over administration and it is there in black and white in the judgement that we had no knowledge of the administration.
“I’m glad it is basically all over and we can move on from here.”
O’Brien said his and Kavanagh’s legal team have issued a demand to Flemington Equine Clinic in a bid to recoup damages to their businesses.
O’Brien and Kavanagh will also seek to claim a portion of their costs from Racing Victoria for the long-running case at VCAT.
Justice Garde noted in his judgement that Dr Tom Brennan is culpable for the offences under AR175 and that he is the perpetrator responsible for administration of the prohibited substance.
“Taking into account the submissions made by the parties, and all of the considerations that they have urged, a fine should be imposed on each of the trainers, in a moderate amount,” he said.
“It is not appropriate that any period of suspension be imposed on either trainer. There are some differences between their respective positions, past record and the facts relating to them which I should also take into account.
“The amount of the penalty should make due allowance for the significant economic and other impacts that the trainers have sustained during these lengthy proceedings.”
Racing Victoria later responded with a statement from chief executive Giles Thompson.
“We accept VCAT’s ruling that the trainers breached the rules set down to ensure a level playing field. Trainers are ultimately responsible for the care of their horses and ensuring they’re presented to race free of prohibited substances,” Thompson said.
“We will review today’s judgement, taking advice from our Integrity Council, and consider whether the rule and penalty framework is consistent with the expectations of the wider industry and the community when rules are broken and horses compete with a prohibited substance in their system.
“Protecting the integrity of the sport is core to Racing Victoria’s role in maintaining a world-class thoroughbred racing industry and, as we have seen from the reaction over the past week, those people who abide by the rules expect us to do everything within our power to protect the sport.
“Our priority has always been to protect the integrity of Victorian thoroughbred racing and the welfare of all participants, including our horses. We took this action because the horses involved returned cobalt readings that were excessively above the permitted threshold when they were presented to the racetrack in breach of the Rules of Racing.
“Every trainer, jockey, owner and punter must be confident that they are competing on a level playing field where horses are competing on their merits. Where we find a breach of the rules, our participants, our customers and the wider public expect us to take action.”