THIS could be racing's Lance Armstrong moment. As the inquiry continues into the alleged use of cobalt in racing, we may be seeing a crisis unfolding in the sport the scale of which has not been seen for decades.

CHRIS ROOTS reports for FAIRFAX MEDIA that if the allegations prove correct, the cobalt crisis threatens to rival the jockey tape affair and the Fine Cotton ring-in scandal in terms of its impact on the sport. Both those cases resulted in people being banned for years, even decades. 

Fairfax Media racing doyen Max Presnell believes the cobalt crisis could outweigh any scandal he has seen in more than half a century covering the sport due to the wide range of players from across the industry who may yet be caught up in the inquiry.  

If true, this cobalt crisis could ruin careers, businesses and reputations.

The allegations are that there has been a systematic approach to the use of a performance-enhancing drug, with elevated cobalt readings taken from horses from the yards of Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Mark Kavanagh, Danny O'Brien and Sam Kavanagh. Those trainers are strongly denying the charges and intend to fight to clear their names. 

The Racing NSW hearings into the Kavanagh-trained Midsummer Sun recording a cobalt reading above the 200 mg/L threshold will resume in August. It will be a tough time for racing. That is not to assume, or imply, anyone's guilt. It is simply to say that racing will again be in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Kavanagh, vet Tom Brennan and others will face charges related to cobalt and the discovery of a bottle labelled "Vitamin Complex", which it is alleged contained a high concentration of cobalt.

The investigation into the alleged use of cobalt grew to such an extent that Racing NSW and Racing Victoria stewards reached  a memorandum of understanding to share information about the case.  Anyone who understands racing knows that in itself is an extraordinary thing, so territorial is the administration of the sport in this country.

Brennan, through his lawyer, contacted Racing NSW and Racing Victoria stewards on Monday to change his evidence. In the Kavanagh case, he said he was paid $1000  for supplying a bottle of Vitamin Complex and destroying a postage book. He told stewards he didn't know the bottle contained cobalt and said that it had been supplied to him by another veterinarian.

That vet was interviewed by Racing NSW on Tuesday.

In the Victorian cases, he said he had attended the separate stables of Mark Kavanagh and Danny O'Brien and had given intravenous drips to horses from a bottle of Vitamin Complex. Brennan said he was paid $3000 each from both trainers. Both trainers have denied they paid Brennan or had any idea the bottle contained a mixture containing cobalt.

Rumour and innuendo have spread through the racing industry, but the facts are there are more than a dozen trainers who have faced charges related to the drug.

Black Caviar's trainer Peter Moody is also facing charges over a horse with a cobalt reading above the threshold, as are Lee and Shannon Hope. They are all fighting those charges and maintain their innocence. Kevin Moses has been told by stewards there is an irregularity with an elevated cobalt level from one of his horses.

It is right that the allegations should come under scrutiny and should be tested thoroughly because the very integrity of the sport is under the spotlight.

 

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