Arsenic test results to come under close scrutiny
The question of how one of the most commonly used therapeutic substances for racehorses for the last 30 years suddenly tested positive for arsenic lies at the heart of a judicial review which has opened in the High Court at Auckland.
The action has been brought by the connections of Harness Jewels winner Delightful Christian, Auckland trainers John Green and Bunty Hughes, and Australian owners Barry Rattray and Wayne McLaughlin, who took the rare step, unwilling to take part in any industry judicial hearing into the controversial case.
Delightful Christian was one of two horses who tested positive to arsenic after urine sampling at the feature meeting at Cambridge on June 2. Both she and Four-Year-Old Mares' fourth placegetter, Precious Mach, had been treated with the popular tonic caco-iron copper in the days leading up to the race.
In the statement of claim, it was revealed Delightful Christian had a level of 0.47mg/litre, just above the threshold of 0.3mg/litre allowed by Harness Racing New Zealand, in line with that specified by the Federation of International Racing Authorities.
The samples were tested in Hong Kong as part of a new thrust by the Racing Integrity Unit to clean up the industry, and the super sensitive testing methods in use there detected the presence of the arsenic compound sodium cacodylate.
In 30 previous years of trainers using caco-iron copper to maintain the health and wellbeing of their animals while in training not one irregular test for arsenic had been produced.
Caco-iron copper had no official withholding time but, as with all legitimate therapeutic substances, it was not to be administered on raceday. Delightful Christian was given 30ml of caco-iron copper by leading vet Ivan Bridge two days before the race in compliance with the withholding period adopted by the industry.
In the statement of claim, the plaintiffs argue HRNZ had for 20 years followed an agreed policy with the New Zealand Equine Veterinary Association that in the event of any changes in testing or methods or reclassification of any therapeutic substances, an appropriate lead-in amnesty period would be announced.
Neither HRNZ nor the RIU consulted or liaised with the NZEVA or New Zealand Harness Racing Trainers' and Drivers' Association about any proposal to test urine samples for arsenic.
The New Zealand racing laboratory used by HRNZ had never tested for arsenic in equine urine and was not accredited or validated to do it.
It was of major concern that no lab in New Zealand or overseas, apart from Hong Kong, was accredited to the standards required by the International authority. That meant industry participants were not able to have the B or reserve sample analysed.
Anyone wanting to exercise their right to challenge the test results therefore faced an enormous financial cost of consulting and calling expert witnesses from overseas to challenge the validity of the Hong Kong results.
Before 2012, with the exception of Hong Kong, no other international horse racing authority had tested for arsenic.
Losing the race, which is mandatory under HRNZ rules if Delightful Christian is found to have been administered caco-iron copper exceeding 30mg/l, would not only damage the reputations of her connections but have serious financial implications.
The RIU announced in August it would not be laying charges against the trainers involved but the connections of Delightful Christian, in particular, stand to lose heavily if she is disqualified.
Green and Hughes are in line for $7500 for their 10% training share, driver Maurice McKendry $3750 for his 5% driving cut, and owners Rattray and McLaughlin more than $63,000.
The owners stand to benefit indirectly as the Group I win would significantly increase Delightful Christian's value as a broodmare. Likewise, Green and Hughes, who owned Delightful Christian's dam, Delightful Paula, would also come to benefit.
The statement of claim includes a number of other submissions, including one that the relevant rule is invalid as it delegates the ultimate power and discretion to lay an information to the operations manager of the RIU, which is a company, not a recognised body under the Racing Act.
RIU general manager Mike Godber refused a request for a copy of the statement of defence.
The substantive hearing is set down for March 18 and 19.
Sunday Star Times