Queensland trainer banned for nine months
Toowoomba trainer Harry Richardson became the latest licensee caught up in the cobalt net this week, outed for nine months for three separate breaches of the threshold with his horse Smokey Diamond.
The breaches occurred at Ipswich on January 5 (second) and 24 (won) this year, along with a race at the Sunshine Coast on February 10 (second). The range of the three readings were between 170 and 300, putting the horse in excess of the 100 millimoles per litre in urine threshold.
Richardson told stewards Smokey Diamond had become fractious when travelling to the races last preparation and he therefore had an issue with the gelding frequently becoming dehydrated, which was the cause of the elevated readings.
Stewards said they were comfortably satisfied the levels recorded "could not be achieved" by fractious behaviour and dehydration would not result in the levels present and found the trainer guilty.
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In handing out a nine-month suspension, stewards acknowledged Richardson's "unblemished record over a training career of some 50 years".
Veterinarian Dr Derek Major, who has studied cobalt in horses since 2015, has stated on the public record that testing cobalt in urine is a flawed process.
Dr Major and a number of other veterinary and scientific experts recently wrote to Racing Australia chief executive Barry O'Farrell and the national heads of Harness and Greyhound racing urging them to implement an "immediate moratorium on prosecutions for alleged misuse of cobalt."
Within the submission, the group wrote "reliance on results from a single urine sample is prone to error" because the test subject's "level of hydration at the time urine is sampled can have a great influence on the concentration" of the reading.
In the wake of harness trainer-drive Darrel Graham recently being suspended for 12 months after an appeal to QCAT, the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission said the ruling should act as a warning for all participants.
It noted QCAT accepted evidence from two independent expert professors that "cobalt was capable of directly or indirectly affecting the body system of a horse."
Integrity Commissioner Ross Barnett said the Graham decision also "resolves the argument" around dehydration influencing results.
"The QCAT ruling makes it clear that the cobalt threshold in the Rules of Racing takes dehydration into account and whether the animal was dehydrated was not relevant if the threshold was breached," Barnett said.
Top Victorian barrister Damian Sheales said last week the science around cobalt had been "settled for some time" and that it provides no performance enhancing benefits.
He described the penalties handed out for cobalt breaches as being "without rhyme nor reason."
It followed an official request from the Australian Trainers Association for Racing Australia to review its stance on the rules around cobalt.
Queensland has 27 cobalt cases still under consideration either by stewards or QCAT.