How a parcel sent to David Hayes triggered racing’s battle against cobalt   Leave a comment

How a parcel sent to David Hayes triggered racing’s battle against cobalt

The dramatic hearing took place on September 20, 2012 at Racing Victoria headquarters at Flemington.

A mix-up of eight bottles of concentrated cobalt sent to David Hayes has ignited a saga t

A mix-up of eight bottles of concentrated cobalt sent to David Hayes has ignited a saga that might take years to reach a conclusion. Picture: Mark Evans Source: News Corp Australia

IT was a sensational hearing with a curious twist.

Jockey Danny Nikolic was before the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board, accused of threatening Racing Victoria chief steward Terry Bailey and Bailey’s family. The threat would eventually have Nikolic disqualified for two years.

Terry Bailey addresses the media when cobalt scandal first surfaced in January. Picture:

Terry Bailey addresses the media when cobalt scandal first surfaced in January. Picture: Brendan Francis Source:News Corp Australia

Sixteen days earlier, at ­Seymour races, Bailey said that during an extraordinary run-in Nikolic had sneered “we’ve all got families, c—, we know where yours live’’.

Bailey told the September 20 hearing that Nikolic’s tirade had him fearing for his family’s welfare.

Yet after the Seymour races Bailey did not rush south to the family home in Melbourne.

He drove north.

There is no reason to ­believe Bailey’s fears for his family were unfounded, but Bailey had already organised to meet David Hayes at Hayes’ training farm near Euroa early the next morning.

So Bailey drove from Seymour to Euroa and checked into a motel.

Some days earlier Hayes had received a surprise visitor, later described by Bailey as a “gypsy’’.

This gypsy offered Hayes a range of products from the boot of his car. Hayes was told they might benefit his horses.

Hayes was both sceptical and curious.

He bought the products, saw off the gypsy salesman then promptly rang the chief steward, who picked them up the morning after the Nikolic run-in, placed them in the boot of his car and returned to ­Racing Victoria HQ.

The products, “herbal type stuff’’, according to Bailey, were tested in a lab in Hong Kong and did not prove sinister or illegal, just exotic.

But there would be another delivery to Hayes, this time by parcel post. And it wasn’t a boot full of herbals.

It was in January last year. Hayes, unbidden, received a package that would prove the genesis of the darkest chapter in racing history.

It contained eight bottles of concentrated cobalt.

Its arrival was a mix-up; sent from a laboratory in Queensland and intended for a vet on the Mornington Peninsula; delivered instead to the vet clinic within Hayes’ $25 million facility.

Like many other trainers, Hayes had heard a little, but not much, about the miraculous benefits of cobalt. He also knew not to touch it.

“Back then it was just one of those products that was ­rumoured about being used, but that’s all I knew,’’ Hayes said. “What I did know was that I didn’t want anything to do with it.’’

So Hayes again rang Bailey and another steward drove up to Euroa and returned to ­Racing Victoria with eight ­bottles of a product that would soon bring the sport to its knees.

Trainer David Hayes knew enough that he want to touch the eight bottles of concentrated c

Trainer David Hayes knew enough that he want to touch the eight bottles of concentrated cobalt when they arrived on his doorstep. Picture: Colleen Petch Source: News Corp Australia

Bailey said the parcel was the “catalyst’’ for the creation of strict rules relating to cobalt, a heavy salt that officials ­believe heightens performance in horses and can harm them when used in large doses.

Cobalt is easily and legally available via stock and station agents around the country and is produced naturally in ­animals.

Cattle and sheep that are deficient in cobalt receive ­bottled top-ups.

But its presence and intense use in racing stables had only been rumoured until it fell into the chief steward’s lap.

“It’s where it began. We’d heard rumour and anecdotes, but here it was,’’ Bailey said.

The batch sent to one of Australia’s most famous trainers would set off a domino ­effect and ignite a saga that might take years to reach a conclusion, cause racing ­immeasurable brand damage and cost a growing list of trainers a fortune in legal fees.

It might cost them their ­careers. But all Hayes did was hand over a dodgy package to the authorities.

After the bottles were ­analysed by scientists who had now become certain of its dark benefits and dangers, Victoria introduced a cobalt threshold of 200 micrograms per litre of urine on April 14 last year. Other states would follow suit.

In Victoria, trainers found guilty of administering illegal amounts of it to their horses would be disqualified for three years. “Life, in this business,’’ one trainer said.

About six months after the threshold was introduced, well-known horses from famous stables started smashing through the cobalt ceiling.

Peter Moody was told on December 10 by stewards that his horse Lidari had exceeded the co

Peter Moody was told on December 10 by stewards that his horse Lidari had exceeded the cobalt threshold when it had run second in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington in October. Picture: Getty Images Source: Getty Images

On December 5, father and son training team Lee and Shannon Hope were told two of their horses had returned ­illegal levels, then later a third.

Five days later legendary trainer Peter Moody was told his horse Lidari had exceeded the threshold when it had run second in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington in October. The next day famous Flemington trainers Danny O’Brien (three horses, then another some weeks later) and Mark Kavanagh (one horse) were given the same bleak notification.

These were three of greats. Moody, through Black Caviar, had become part of sporting folklore.

Less than a fortnight later nine horses trained in Queensland tested positive to cobalt, then, in March, NSW trainer Darren Smith was found guilty of 42 charges.

Such was the scale of Smith’s offences, he was disqualified for 15 years. He is ­appealing.

The same month as Smith was disqualified in NSW, Kavanagh’s Sydney-based trainer son Sam was told his horse Midsummer Sun, who later dropped dead, had returned positive tests to ­cobalt and ­caffeine.

Kavanagh told NSW stewards during a sensational hearing — talk of bikies peddling potions, runaway vets and compromised racing officials — that senior Flemington Equine Clinic vet Tom Brennan had post-packaged him cobalt labelled as “vitamins”.

Brennan was stable vet for Mark Kavanagh and O’Brien.

One vet had been asked to appear at the Sam Kavanagh inquiry but opted out on health grounds.

A few weeks later he bobbed up at the German Derby in Hamburg, seemingly in good health, with a well-known group of Australian racehorse owners.

Flemington trainer Danny O’Brien has four horses that have exceeded the cobalt threshold.

Flemington trainer Danny O’Brien has four horses that have exceeded the cobalt threshold. Picture: Norm OorloffSource: News Corp Australia

On June 11, Melbourne stewards issued a total of 29 charges against O’Brien, Mark Kavanagh, the Hopes and Brennan.

A month later they issued three charges against Moody.

Most will argue legal supplement regimens somehow pushed them over the limit.

The Hopes face a directions hearing before the Racing ­Appeals and Disciplinary Board on Wednesday.

Then will come Kavanagh and/or O’Brien, then Moody.

Similar conga lines of trainers will appear before hearings interstate, including respected Sydney trainer Kevin Moses, whose recent cobalt breach came long after career-ending penalties had been set. Moses threw up his arms and blamed vitamin supplements.

There has never been a broom of this size sweep through the sport of kings and its reach is global.

New Zealand’s most ­revered racing stable, the legendary O’Sullivans, has a horse that has tested positive. It is said to be horrified.

In June our alleged cobalt “cowboys’’ were the talk of Royal Ascot, a centuries-old English carnival that had ­always seemed a world away from our industry and its ­issues.

The world is watching. Spring is approaching. This wrecking ball of a racing story has barely hit stride.

Originally published as Express post from the dark side

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Posted July 21, 2015 by belesprit09 in Uncategorized

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