Global interest in Australian cobalt chloride case

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(L-R) Head of Veterinary Services and Equine Welfare Dr Brian Stewart and RV Chairman of Stewards Terry Bailey
(L-R) Head of Veterinary Services and Equine Welfare Dr Brian Stewart and RV Chairman of Stewards Terry Bailey

The cobalt chloride crisis has gripped the Australian racing community but the racing world is also watching the outcome of the case.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Racing Victoria chief veterinary steward Brian Stewart admitted he was not surprised at the amount of interest the case had gathered.

“I think that Australia being one of the finest racing models, they’re taking a long look at it,” he said. “It seems that many from around the world are watching this case unfold.”

Stewart, who worked as the head regulatory veterinarian in Hong Kong and Singapore, has been overseas for 20 years as a racing administrator and a clinical vet.

Prior to leaving Victoria, Stewart worked in a racetrack practice in Melbourne with renowned vet Andy McKinnon, so he understands both sides of racing.

Stewart is forthright in his belief that the use of cobalt chloride has no place in the racing industry.

“Mega dosage of cobalt has the potential to significantly enhance performance. And in that we’ve got to remember that there is a horse welfare issue that is just as important,” he said.

Much has been published about the three trainers Danny O’Brien, Peter Moody and Mark Kavanagh, since the story broke two weeks ago.

But Stewart maintains “we respect people’s reputations as, in this case, we are in the very early stages of working through the tests and the other tests we are doing. It’s an investigation that has a way to go. We are not dissimilar to a detective or a public prosecutor,” he said.

Some of the trainers involved believe that the publicity generated from the five positive samples has harmed their business and family life. However, the Racing Victoria integrity department contacted all three trainers, allowing leeway for them to inform owners and staff of the matter prior to a steward’s report being drafted.

No charges have been laid in the cobalt cases and if any are to be issued they may be some time off.

Stewart and chief steward Terry Bailey make no apologies for the time-consuming nature of such an inquest.

One former racing steward said recently, “If social media and twitter get you upset, just don’t look at it. There is no one compelling you to turn on your computer and read unsubstantiated claims about your business,” referring to some people close to the three trainers involved, who were complaining at the negativity being directed towards these horsemen.

Stewart said the investigation was progressing well but with much work to be done.

Another eminent industry figure, who wished to remain anonymous, said that these cases exactly paralleled the multiple cases of cobalt doping in New South Wales harness racing last year.

And he believed those cases had already set a precedent for how the cases will be handled in Victoria.

The rules are similar and the trainers offered similar excuses to what we are hearing from O’Brien.

There was a Supreme Court challenge and appeal, but in the end Harness Racing NSW prevailed and 10 trainers have been banned from that industry for periods ranging from 30 months to 10 years.

The industry figure said it was a credit to Harness Racing NSW that they had successfully prosecuted so many cobalt charges.

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