Racing Integrity Unit defends consistency around presenting cobalt charges
Racing Integrity Unit general manager Mike Godber is defending his organisation's consistency around cobalt positives.
Earlier this week, Canterbury harness racing trainer Cran Dalgety was hit with a $32,000 fine for presenting five horses to race with cobalt levels in excess of the 200 ug/L (micrograms per litre) threshold for the prohibited substance.
Importantly, the Racing Integrity Unit (RIU) and the Judicial Control Authority (JCA), who handed down the penalty, agreed that Dalgety was guilty of negligence but did not intentionally administer cobalt or any other prohibited substance.
Dalgety, a highly successful trainer best known for guiding the career of champion pacer Christen Me, questioned why Southland trainer Shane Walkinshaw escaped a presenting charge when two of his horses returned positive swabs for cobalt in late 2015.
But Godber said attempting to compare the two cases was "drawing a long bow".
Walkinshaw purchased an over the counter product and the label confirmed a small and legal amount of cobalt was present in the ingredients.
However, the batch was contaminated and in fact contained 190 times the amount that was advertised.
"In the Walkinshaw case we asked what more could he have done to prevent it and the answer was not a lot," Godber said.
A raft of tests were done on the supplement and the Walkinshaw-trained Not Bad to determine that the product had been manufactured incorrectly. Both the supplier and the manufacturer took responsibility.
Godber said the Dalgety case was different because the supplement, McGrouthers Equine Mineral Mix, was labelled as containing cobalt but it did not identify the amount.
He said that put a significant responsibility on Dalgety to identify the level of cobalt in the product which he did not do.
"If you look at the Dalgety case, it did not meet the criteria for there not to be a charge because there was clearly more he could have done," Godber said.
He added that Dalgety's case was not helped by the fact the product was not being used by any other trainers in New Zealand and was not sold on a large commercial basis.
Dalgety's counter to that argument was that he had been using the product without issue for more than 10 years and the label of the supplement said "will not return a positive swab" and "Licensed under Animal Remedies Act 1967 No 3392". It was later found to have not been licensed since at least 1997.
The JCA decision said Dalgety's culpability was his failure to obtain appropriate advice on the use of a product containing cobalt after Harness Racing New Zealand (HRNZ) introduced a cobalt threshold 200 ug/L in May 2015.
Godber added that products that were licensed under the act could still contain ingredients that were prohibited under the rules of racing.
"It's really a case of buyer beware. The onus is on the trainer to make sure the product is free of any prohibited substances.
"The message is, if you are in any doubt do not use the product until you have spoken to your vet."
Dalgety also raised another case where two Canterbury trainers were not charged when they returned positive swabs for caffeine in 2013 that was also proven to be from a feed supplement.
Godber said that was because the product did not show any signs of caffeine on its label and both trainers had sought veterinary advice.
Dalgety described his $32,000 fine as excessive but Godber, who reiterated the value of the fine was set by the JCA, said he did not believe the fine was unreasonable given it was Dalgety's third offence in eight years.
The RIU submitted for a fine between $36,000 and $86,250 but because it deemed the offence to be at the lower end of the scale, expected a penalty close to the $36,000 mark.
Dalgety's two previous positives (caffeine and bute) were deemed to be unintentional with the caffeine being a result of contaminated feed and the wrong horse being treated with bute by stable staff.
The RIU acknowledged Dalgety had been fully cooperative throughout their investigation.
WHAT IS COBALT?
Cobalt is an essential trace element that is naturally occurring in horses, dogs and other mammals but has been demonstrated to have an effect on the blood system by stimulating the production of red blood cells making for a similar effect to Erythropoietin (EPO) doping.