New insights after a day fighting over cobalt

In a move that was hardly surprising at Wednesday’s show-cause hearings into why the four trainers with elevated cobalt readings should retain their licences, the lawyer for Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh, Damian Sheales, labelled vet Tom Brennan a liar and effectively alleged Brennan was responsible for the cobalt positives in those two stables. It was hardly news after Brennan recanted previous evidence and last week said he sold both Kavanagh and O’Brien “vitamin bottles” for thousands of dollars. Given this change of evidence, it was simply a matter of which bus Brennan would be thrown under.

While this may not be surprising, it is certainly an interesting change in the direction of these cases, as both Kavanagh and O’Brien are clearly aiming to make Brennan fully responsible for their woes.

This could end up as a heavyweight battle between these parties, with each side claiming the other knew what was going on. It’s hard to believe Brennan will accept full liability because if Kavanagh and O’Brien are disqualified for long periods, the possible lawsuits resulting would spell financial ruin for the beleaguered vet.

Industry observers have said it will be hard to lay all the blame on Brennan, as in the past in racing the ultimate responsibility lies with the trainer to present his horse to the races drug-free. There is also the other matter that allegedly both Kavanagh and O’Brien paid Brennan $3000 for “vitamin bottles” normally costing about $15.

In other parts of the hearing, leading trainer Peter Moody, through his lawyer, stated he had more than 300 swabs tested annually and the cobalt elevation in Lidari must be an unexplained aberration, perhaps divine intervention.

In the most expected move of all,  Lee and Shannon Hope indicated they would challenge the science of cobalt. Robert Stitt QC outlined the Hopes’ claim that urine was the wrong test for cobalt and blood was a better test. This will be an interesting argument. In every other part of the world, urine is accepted as the best test sample.

However, in the US, because its racing allows the use of other drugs, urine could not be used and a blood test for cobalt needed to be developed. Some believe the blood test is difficult and unreliable.

At the hearings on Wednesday there was a sustained attempt to discredit the opinions of two of Racing Victoria’s experts, Dr Brian Stewart and Professor Brynn Hibbert. Hibbert has been involved in establishing Australia’s cobalt threshold. He has calculated the odds of a normal horse exceeding the threshold could be  2.25trillion, so an attempt to discredit his finding is not surprising.

Sheales took direct aim at RV’s head vet Stewart and tried to blame him for the cobalt fiasco, saying cobalt wasn’t bad, there was no proof of performance enhancement, nor toxic side effects. However RV integrity stewards and Dr Stewart have a vital role representing everyone in racing and this includes the other 900 odd trainers and thousands of horses who do not have a Cobalt positive.

No one admitted or accepted responsibility for the Cobalt positives. While it is likely the stewards will allow these trainers to continue because of the number of staff they employ, there was no satisfactory explanation of the nine positives.

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