COBALT LEAVES TRAINERS DESPERATE AND DATELESS
When you’re in a hole stop digging- an apt a truism to describe the mess that Victorian racing’s self appointed and self-styled poster boy for all things associated with integrity – Danny O’Brien- is creating for himself through a litany of contradictory statements ascribed to him in print and spoken word since the cobalt positives scandal broke in Victoria just over a week ago.
O’Brien’s almost indecent haste to get on the front foot and defend himself and his two “brothers-in-arms” in the training ranks facing investigation over the cobalt positives has raised more pertinent questions about the whole sorry saga which the three trainers have found themselves embroiled in.
In the short term it’s an outcome they could have done without.
Danny O’Brien, Mark Kavanagh and Peter Moody resemble three anxious faces at the head of the queue waiting for the ticket office to open so they could purchase tickets to the Desperate and Dateless ball- Desperate to seek a plausible reason for the mess they have found themselves in, and Dateless for the lack of support that they have among their fellow trainers back home in bleak city and in Sydney.
Danny O’Brien, who has assumed the role of public spokesman for the Trio Los Panchos, went for Racing Victoria’s jugular on local sports radio station SEN, accusing the Victorian governing body of rushing into introducing a cobalt rule with a threshold of 200 micrograms per litre describing it as resulting in “massive collateral damage to racing”, and that he didn’t think the new rule was “terribly well thought out or researched”.
He went further : “Our horses were very marginally over the threshold and it appears that it has happened over a period of time on a build up of their normal race day supplements and treatments”.
Shades of the drink drive campaign with the infamous tag line: “A little bit over? You, bloody idiot!”
Embarrassingly for O’Brien and his brothers-in-arms, the assertion that cobalt levels could have gradually built in the horses testing positive through normal supplements and treatments is in complete contradiction to veterinary scientific information offered by Racing Victoria Chief Veterinarian Brian Stewart and, equally tellingly, by Chief Steward for Harness Racing NSW Reid Sanders.
In a far ranging interview with Melbourne Racing radio station RSN’s host Shane Anderson, Reid Sanders provided a detailed and factual insight on extensive scientific research into the use of cobalt in harness racing undertaken by the code.
The results of the research coupled with the evidence offered by Stewart has effectively debunked and isolated O’Brien’s assertions, making them look little more than a knee jerk clutching of straws, which has not been thought through.
O’Brien’s responses since the news of the scandal broke have been in keeping with his public persona of a cocky, smart arse, arrogant you know what. The poems about him penned by another trainer and making the rounds to the tune of “Danny Boy” are priceless.
Danny Boy’s first response was to play down the positives to such a dramatic degree that it could quite easily have been perceived that the Stewards had overreacted.
Common sense, it seemed, would prevail, and, with the waving of the mythical fairy wand, the genie would come out of the bottle and Australian racing’s worst nightmare would be over – just like that.
After a few days and, perhaps, realizing that such misplaced wishful thinking was just that, there was an about turn in strategy.
The blame was still with city hall, but this time there was a failure to properly inform trainers of the rule and its implications. Que? Here was Fawlty Towers and Monty Python rolled into one.
As Shane Anderson aptly commented, the discussion surrounding cobalt had been out there in the racing community for five years or more. It simply beggars belief that a professional trainer and, particularly those with the highest of profiles and at the top of the tree in their profession, would not, as a matter of course, do their due diligence and be aware and familiar with rule changes – particularly those which involve a substance which is front and centre of conversations within the racing industry both in Australia and overseas.
And when a threshold is introduced to a substance naturally occurring in racehorses and present in legitimate therapeutic supplements, but when present in high levels has performance enhancing capabilities, should and would it not raise a heightened state of awareness and inquisition?
Would you not speed dial your veterinarian or the Integrity Department and seek immediate clarification, and explanations?
Would you not also jump onto the print media and airwaves as has been done ad nauseum to protest the introduction of “yet another poorly researched and thought out change to a rule of racing”?
No, this explanation does not stand up, particularly when the rule change, as we have been told, was introduced in Victoria in April last year and adopted later in the year by Racing NSW and nationally by the Australian Racing Board in December 2014.
Not only did the Victorian rule change introducing a threshold, and the Victorians going it alone attract plenty of publicity in Victoria, but it also did in NSW. And without being familiar with how the stewards in “bleak city” communicate their rule changes, you would take long odds on about Terry Bailey shouting such changes from every possible rooftop and from every street corner.
Fairfax Melbourne racing scribe Pat Bartley minced no words in an editorial piece in last Sunday’s Age newspaper entitled “Racing’s cobalt crisis: Why Danny O’Brien and friends are in strife”, in which he tore shreds off O’Brien’s radio interview on SEN: “O’Brien made some sweeping and unfounded remarks about Racing Victoria and its ability or inability to prosecute cobalt positives and said that over the border in NSW, they got it right”.
Describing the interview, tongue in cheek, as “one of the most moving sermons on why Racing Victoria have wrongfully left the Flemington horseman with three positive swabs to cobalt”, he went on to say that “spin-doctoring has left few close to the case in little doubt that the trainer’s explanations have left a lot to be desired”, and that “O’Brien should not be proclaiming NSW as any saviour. Harness Racing NSW has disqualified eight trainers for between 30 months and ten years for cobalt offences”. Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes they are a-calling, from glen to glen..:
Quoting research conducted in Hong Kong on 7500 urine samples tested for cobalt since 2006, which showed unsupplemented horses to have cobalt urine levels in the range of five to 10 with an average as low as 3.7, Bartley states that the Hong Kong Laboratory then performed a detailed study on a variety of legitimate cobalt supplements.
“The results showed that oral supplements had virtually no effect on cobalt levels. Whilst injectable cobalt supplements did have the potential to elevate urine cobalt levels over the Hong Kong thresholds (100micrograms per litre), this excess over the threshold was very short lived lasting only six to 11 hours. This point is lost on many in the industry. To reach the levels above 200 micrograms (the Australian threshold), would mean that a horse would have to be therapeutically treated on the day of the race, which is also banned in Australia”, states Bartley.
There’s not much more that can be said about this sad chapter in Australian racing history is there?
DOES ABLE FRIEND DESERVE A HIGHER RATING?
The end of year World Best Racehorse rankings released earlier this week are generally on the money.
However, it is arguable that Able Friend, rated on 127 and in equal third position with four other racehorses – English Derby winner Australia, French Derby winner The Grey Gatsby, champion miler Kingman and South African champ Variety Club- should have been rated closer to second placed Epiphaneia , winner of the 2014 Japan Cup, who has been given a 129 rating.
Able Friend’s victory in the International Mile last December was arguably one of the best anywhere in the world in 2014, and in that context alone deserving of at least another rating point.
On that performance alone the champion Hong Kong miler was on par with Epiphaneia, whose performances in 2014 were no superior to Able Friend.
The sprint rankings, which again showcased the strength of Australian sprinters, got it right with Lankan Rupee and Terravista sharing top honours on 123, a point ahead of Chautaqua, who split the pair in the Darley Classic during the Melbourne Spring Racing carnival franking the growing status of the Darley Classic as the world’s most prestigious and influential sprint race.
TVN RESOLUTION IMMINENT?
Whilst the demise of TVN has been confirmed and NSW racing vision rights will be signed over to Tabcorp, from what we are hearing, the destination of the vision rights for Victoria is yet to be finalized.
One outcome is however certain – Victorian racing will be shown on Sky’s revamped thoroughbred racing channel alongside NSW and Queensland and possibly the rest of the Australian states.
However, inevitably, it will result in a cluttered and congested channel if racing from all states and their main provincial races are shown on a single channel, not unlike the existing “traffic jam” of thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing which is all thrown together on Sky 1.
The Victorians are still strongly focussed in finalizing separate agreements with corporate bookmakers and with international jurisdictions for their international rights, which NSW appear content to handover to Sky.
Negotiations with Foxtel and the Seven Network are still in progress, with Foxtel still a ‘live’ option, particularly with a buyout of the ailing Ten Network by Foxtel a very real possibility.