By: Andrew Eddy
The former director of Victoria’s racing laboratory on Thursday said that in his opinion, Chemcentre was entitled to put on a NATA stamp in their scope of accreditation for testing for cobalt in equine urine in 2014.
Dr John Vine, who has acted as a National Association of Testing Authorities technical assessor ‘hundreds of times’ in his role as Racing Analytical Services Ltd Director, told VCAT that NATA had a special arrangement with racing laboratories which enabled them to make minor changes to their methods which would not affect their accreditation status.
He said that Chemcentre’s change of method to test for equine urine instead of human urine was ‘exceedingly trivial’ as it involved a routine dilution of a sample. He said the laboratory was accredited to test for cobalt in urine and that urine, in this instance, was likely to be a generic term.
He said this special arrangement with racing laboratories existed because racing laboratories were in the business of testing for new things for which methods didn’t exist.
The accreditation of the Chemcentre laboratory to test for cobalt in equine urine is one of the major points of conflict between the parties in the appeal of trainers Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanaghagainst lengthy cobalt disqualifications.
Damian Sheales, counsel for the two trainers, accused Vine of distorting the truth to suit his purposes.
“I suggest you are making this up to help out your old friends at RASL,” Sheales said.
The appeal had earlier heard from the Chemcentre chief Charles Russo that he would not have put the NATA stamp on the tested urine if he had his time over again. But Vine said he believed Russo was referring to the fact that Chemcentre had not lodged the new method specifically with NATA until October, 2014.
“I don’t think that was necessary,” Vine told VCAT president Justice Greg Garde. “They could have extended their normal method.”
Earlier chief veterinarian Dr Brian Stewart conceded that Racing Victoria had erred in not informing trainers in 2014 that a recommended dose of a vitamins and minerals mix could take a horse’s cobalt levels above the threshold.
Dr Stewart was being cross-examined by Sheales when he said that when formulating the cobalt rules in 2014, information should have been made available about the potential of registered product VAM (vitamins and minerals) being able to elevate cobalt to unlawful levels.
“There should have been warnings with the benefit of hindsight, yes,” Dr Stewart said. “We made a mistake in not doing so.”
Dr Stewart also conceded that he was against pushing forward to introduce rules in Victoria ahead of the other states. He suggested that there should be no testing for cobalt until ‘further down the track’ when studies into the drug were completed.
While the other racing bodies throughout Australia were content to wait for national cobalt laws to come into effect in January, 2015, Racing Victoria pushed ahead with their rules in April, 2014.
“We had to respond to a crisis and things were moved along quickly,” said Dr Stewart, who has recently resigned his position with Racing Victoria and will take up a post with the Hong Kong Jockey Club in December.
Sheales said there was ‘not one shred of science’ to support Stewart’s opinion of cobalt’s performance-enhancing properties but Stewart claimed: “There is a mass of scientific evidence that would support its potential to have that effect.”
The appeal continues at midday on Friday when Justice Grade investigates as to the possible availability of required witness Dr Adam Matthews.