Australian trainers Mark Kavanagh and Danny O’Brien have won in their appeals to be cleared of charges relating to cobalt positives. A Victorian tribunal ruled on Friday that Racing Victoria did not follow standard testing protocols in the cases, and that the trainers were unaware their veterinarian had administered the cobalt.
Last January, O’Brien was handed a four-year ban and Kavanagh a three-year ban after runners under their care–four trained by O’Brien and one by Kavanagh–returned levels of cobalt above the legal limit while racing in 2014. Both trainers had used veterinarian Dr. Tom Brennan, and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled that Kavanagh and O’Brien–who have continued to train during their ongoing case– were unaware the vet had administered the cobalt through a pre-race drip, and that they were not at fault for Brennan’s actions. Brennan was banned last year for his involvement.
Kavanagh and O’Brien are two of a string of Victorian-based trainers that have been involved in cobalt charges over the last two years. A year ago champion trainer Peter Moody was banned six months for unintentional administration of cobalt to a horse in his care, and walked away from training altogether. The father and son training team of Lee and Shannon Hope were banned three and five years, respectively, for cobalt charges in 2015.
Kavanagh was critical of Racing Victoria after being cleared, telling radio station RSN 927, “This has been ridiculous the amount of time it’s taken and it’s just unfortunate that RVL [Racing Victoria] had to play the game they did. While we were standing up there being called liars and drug cheats the whole time, it was actually the RVL integrity board who were lying and cheating and using testing outside of the requirements. They have defamed us and ruined our businesses–it’s as easy as that.”
Kavanagh’s son, former Sydney-based trainer Sam Kavanagh, was banned nine years and three months in late 2015 for cobalt and other drug-related charges. He too dealt with Brennan.
O’Brien told Racing.com, “To stand here today 26 months later [after initial investigations] and have Justice Garde affirm that [they had done nothing wrong], he’s been very clear that neither Mark or I had any intention of cheating or to try to break any rules of racing, and that we are completely innocent of all charges. And he has also thrown a light on the behaviour of Racing Victoria, the breaches of the rules that they in fact have engineered throughout this process, and that’s probably been the most disappointing thing. The bullying and vilification of both Mark and I and our families by [chief steward] Terry Bailey and his integrity department has been quite incredible.”
Giles Thompson is serving as acting Chief Executive Officer of RV after David Moodie stood down in December for providing Peter Moody information on investigations, and Thompson told Racing.com, “Throughout this issue, our fundamental concern has been to take appropriate steps to protect the integrity of Victorian Thoroughbred racing and to protect the welfare of horses. Where the rules of racing are breached, it is our job to take the appropriate action to enforce the rules. It is important to remember that we took action because the horses involved returned cobalt readings that were excessively above the legal threshold that was set to protect both the integrity of the sport and the welfare of the horses.”