Trainers Danny O'Brien and Mark Kavanagh have been fined at the end of the long-running cobalt inquiry.
Trainers Danny O'Brien and Mark Kavanagh have been fined at the end of the long-running cobalt inquiry.

Trainers to pursue millions after copping cobalt fines

GROUP 1-winning trainers Danny O'Brien and Mark Kavanagh have vowed to fight to reclaim $1 million spent defending cobalt charges - and millions more in damages - that ultimately resulted in minor fines being imposed.

The bitter legal battle between Racing Victoria and O'Brien and Kavanagh ended on Tuesday with the trainers fined $8000 and $4000 respectively.

The pair had at one stage in the 30-month dispute been banned for four years and three years respectively for knowingly sending horses to race with excess levels of blood-boosting cobalt in their systems. But they ultimately were found to have had no knowledge of their horses being doped by their vet.

O'Brien, speaking also on behalf of Kavanagh, said they would each pursue $10m damages from the responsible veterinary clinic.

And the pair would also pursue costs from Racing Victoria for moneys spent in VCAT.

"We would have pleaded guilty to presentation straight up but they chased us for administration. Instead we spent 26 days in court clearing our name," O'Brien said.

"In light of what has been revealed in the past few weeks maybe the RV Integrity Team should have been more concerned in other areas rather than waste $7 million in a misplaced prosecution against us.

"This has really magnified that they took their eyes off the ball. They've spent millions chasing us yet couldn't find $200 to install a CCTV camera in a swabbing stall."

O'Brien will have to repay $34,500 in prizemoney to Racing Victoria while Kavanagh will have to repay $7200 from winning percentages which came from the horses which won prizemoney with cobalt in their system.

 

Danny O’Brien took a swipe at Racing Victoria’s integrity team. Picture: Nicole Garmston
Danny O’Brien took a swipe at Racing Victoria’s integrity team. Picture: Nicole Garmston

 

The owners of the horses disqualified from the five affected races (four horses trained by O'Brien, one by Kavanagh) will also have to pay back any money earned, with the cash redistributed according to the new official placings.

O'Brien's Bondeiger was the highest earner, finishing second in the Victoria Derby and collected $270,000 which will now have to be returned.

Bondeiger is entered in Wednesday's Launceston Cup.

Justice Garde of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal delivered his penalties yesterday after they had late last year been found guilty of presentation of horses with elevated levels of cobalt.

The pair was originally disqualified by the Racing and Appeals Disciplinary Board in December 2015 for the administration of cobalt to horses in their care over the spring of 2014.

 

Mark Kavanagh and Danny O’Brien will apply for maximum costs against Racing Victoria at VCAT next month.
Mark Kavanagh and Danny O’Brien will apply for maximum costs against Racing Victoria at VCAT next month.

 

Vet Tom Brennan was disqualified for five years, which stands.

VCAT overturned the bans on appeal by the trainers in March 2017.

Racing Victoria then took the case to the Court Of Appeal which in November agreed the pair should be penalised for presentation of the horse with cobalt, but that neither had knowledge of how it got there.

RV's chief executive Giles Thompson said RV backed the actions of the integrity team and implied penalties for integrity breaches could be increased.

"We accept VCAT's ruling that the trainers breached the rules set down to ensure a level playing field. Trainers are ultimately responsible for the care of their horses and ensuring they're presented to race free of prohibited substances," Thompson said.

"We will review today's judgment, taking advice from our Integrity Council, and consider whether the rule and penalty framework is consistent with the expectations of the wider industry and the community when rules are broken and horses compete with a prohibited substance in their system.

"Our priority has always been to protect the integrity of Victorian thoroughbred racing and the welfare of all participants, including our horses. We took this action because the horses involved returned cobalt readings that were excessively above the permitted threshold when they were presented to the racetrack in breach of the Rules of Racing."


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