COMMENT

Dark cloud: Four leading trainers, including Danny O'Brien, have been charged by Racing Victoria stewards with multiple offences.Dark cloud: Four leading trainers, including Danny O’Brien, have been charged by Racing Victoria stewards with multiple offences. Photo: Getty Images

Richard Ings, who was at the time the chief executive of ASADA, said in 2013: “Today is the blackest day in Australian sport”. On Thursday, that statement could also be applied to Victorian and Australian racing.

Four leading trainers, Danny O’Brien, Mark Kavanagh and Lee and Shannon Hope, have been charged by Racing Victoria stewards with multiple offences relating to their horses returning illegal levels of cobalt during last year’s spring carnival. Veterinarian Tom Brennan, a partner in the Flemington Equine Clinic, has also been charged with administering cobalt. This is the first time RV stewards have charged a vet. Brennan worked for O’Brien and Kavanagh and Brennan’s practice serviced Sam Kavanagh, who has a cobalt positive result in NSW.

Australia’s premier trainer, Peter Moody, of Black Caviar fame, also has a cobalt positive and awaits that investigation’s results.

This is the biggest drug case in racing worldwide. Never before has there been a cluster of such high-profile trainers, and a vet, charged with serious infractions.

Cobalt has been identified as the most serious threat to worldwide racing and administrators have moved quickly to regulate it.

In Australia, cobalt levels above the 200 mcg/L are deemed to be a performance-enhancing substance. Performance-enhancing substances are the worst of the worst drugs – not tolerated at any time. A confirmed positive carries severe penalties starting at a mandatory three-year disqualification.

To say officials are disappointed with these positives is an understatement. They are devastated and concerned about the possible ramifications to Australia’s reputation in the racing community.

A senior RV official told Fairfax Media: “We knew cobalt was being used because it showed up in our testing last year. But we gave all the trainers warnings that cobalt abuse would not be tolerated, that we could test for cobalt and that we would introduce a level and a test.” Another senior RV executive described these positives as incredulous, adding: “In spite of all our warnings, we now have to deal with the fallout from our leading trainers having to face the Racing Disciplinary Appeals Board.”

Australia’s racing reputation is in the hands of the legal system.

It’s a mess that should not have happened given the warnings given by Racing Victoria.

In the meantime, the worldwide community will judge the integrity of our industry. And so they should because critics would say there are signs our integrity is cracking.