Australia: Cobalt Storm Brews

Where is this all heading?

Peter Moody -

Peter Moody – one of the ‘famous four’

Is there safety in numbers or is an almighty broom about to sweep through Australia’s training ranks?

There are many more cobalt “irregularities’’ than the ones in the public arena.

Racing Victoria chief steward Terry Bailey said on Friday that RVL did not have more cobalt “positives” than the famous four — the Hopes, Mark Kavanagh, Danny O’Brien and Peter Moody.

It is not RVL practice to reveal “irregularities” but Bailey, when pressed, did not say there were none.

Sometimes a “no comment” speaks volumes.

It at least presents the image of a conga line of cobalt inquiries stretching months and months at great financial and image cost to the embattled racing industry.

Tellingly, Bailey said the 4-6 week time frame that had been outlined a fortnight ago for the winding-up of the current investigation had now been stretched. More testing, more retesting, Bailey said.

In Sydney, where there was initially no threshold for cobalt, stewards will determine on Monday just how to deal with the 61 cobalt-related charges against trainer Darren Smith (whose offences occurred pre-threshold).

They say the long-running Smith case at Racing NSW headquarters had been closely hawked by other worried stables with a vested interest in the outcome. There is talk of lawyers scribbling notes at the back of the room.

It is well known an up-and- coming Sydney trainer is bracing himself for a tsunami of charges relating to more than one positive drug test to caffeine and (allegedly) cobalt.

If found guilty, he is cactus.

Ray Murrihy

Ray Murrihy – ‘no comment’

When I asked Racing NSW chief steward Ray Murrihy about that trainer, Murrihy said: “Well, you’d have to ask Mr X. We’re not in the business of putting out this sort of information, but if Mr X is happy to talk about it, then well and good.”

There are rumours of another handful of Sydney trainers with cobalt concerns — “no comment’’ said Murrihy — and a smaller number of trainers in Brisbane, mostly harness, some gallops.

So where is this all heading? It appears RVL is less black and white in its view of cobalt breaches than it was a month or so ago. RVL is now very tight-lipped, so we’re speculating a bit.

But at a recent media briefing, the “science’’ into cobalt and the factors that test its threshold were described by an RVL official as “fairly new’’, whereas the language was far more rigid just weeks earlier.

The trainers will argue legal supplements have pushed their horses beyond the red zone, that the “science’’ had not factored in such cocktails.

It now appears more than a handful of stables had used similar amounts of such supplements and were now spiking up and down the Eastern seaboard.

It was interesting the Australian Trainers’ Association queried why the Australian Racing Board alerted trainers to cobalt risks of commonly used products — but RVL didn’t.

The ARB’s alert came out on December 17, well after Moody and Co’s horses returned illegal cobalt levels.

Too late she cried.

It is interesting, too, that despite growing uncertainty about supplements and their effect on cobalt levels, trainers are unable to check their levels with authorities.

Despite what seems a growing grey area, many vets remain adamant the 200 microgram threshold is foolproof, that recommended supplement use would not push a horse within cooee of it.

These vets, and the rules, say the trainer is ultimately responsible for whatever they use to fuel their horses. True. But what once seemed clear-cut now seems a little murky.

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