THE most precious commodity horse racing has is its integrity, once that is lost, racing is lost. The public demand confidence that horses are competing on a transparent level playing field, allowing those wishing to have a bet to do so with confidence.

PATRICK BARTLEY, in a refreshingly objective comment piece for FAIRFAX MEDIA, suggests that cobalt cases in Victoria have already damaged the image of racing in that state and there is the risk of it doing more damage.

In the US repeated drug scandals have undermined the integrity of racing in that country and many international observers believe that is why US racing is waning.

At the very start of the cobalt saga many people in racing said that because the net had caught the big fish the whole story was too big and that the big names of Moody, Kavanagh and O'Brien were too big to disqualify, instead they would only get fines.

In recent weeks we have seen plenty of manoeuvring with comments from Moody and his supporters that "cobalt is not the big bad wolf that it is made out to be" and that "cobalt is not a performance enhancing drug in horses".

Now we have some legal manoeuvring by the lawyers with hinting of a plea bargain with perhaps a guilty plea to the lesser charge of presenting a horse to the races with elevated cobalt but denying the serious charge of administration.

This is effectively a "not my fault" defence - the "cobalt is high but I have no idea how it got there and it's not my fault". The "presentation" charge is much less serious, is probably only a fine and the guilty trainers keep going. Former Chief Stipe Pat Lalor once said when describing penalties to trainers that a fine is no deterrent, there is always someone in the wings waiting to pay on behalf of the trainer.

The racing industry and the public deserve more than the sublime "no fault" argument. No one has explained why the cobalt levels in these horses are so massively elevated? How did they get there?

What was the intent?

There has been legal banter that the trainers and their lawyers might challenge the science on cobalt. This might prove difficult as the world wide racing industry would appear to be galvanised together in the belief that cobalt is bad and should be banned. Indeed cobalt thresholds are being introduced around the world.

The science of cobalt in horses appears straight forward. It is a trace element present in low levels in every horse, urinary levels less than 10mcg/L. When normal cobalt supplements are given intravenously the cobalt urine levels rise but fall precipitously within hours. Therefore the only way to exceed Racing Victoria's threshold is give cobalt supplements IV close to racing – which is not allowable in Australia as race day treatments are banned.

The other possibility is to give massive amounts of cobalt to the horse in the days before a race. If this is the case then the clear intent is to get cobalt to act as a "blood doping" agent to cause the horse to produce more of its own EPO thereby increasing the horse's red cell count improving oxygen carrying capacity and improving endurances.

This was the very reason cobalt was banned, quite apart from genuine animal welfare concerns about giving horses massive amounts of a potential heavy metal poison.

The dilemma for those wishing to rewrite the science is that the only way to get high cobalt levels - levels over the threshold  - is to give excess cobalt intravenously.

To recap on cobalt and racing. It was identified around the world as the new go fast doping drug, initially found in Standardbreds in New Jersey in the US. Australia followed banning cobalt over 200mcg/L in NSW Harness Racing. Racing Victoria followed in April last year setting a 200mcg/L urinary threshold and putting all trainers on notice that this was a "banned drug", regarded as performance enhancing and one where a positive would carry a long disqualification.

To consolidate the seriousness of cobalt, those with a positive would face the serious charge of administration. This means the offending trainers are charged with having given or caused to be given cobalt with the intent to affect the performance of a horse in a race.

A charge which goes right to the very heart of integrity in racing.

To date the cobalt net has seen trainers across all states and all racing codes face charges with some disqualified for career ending periods.

In Victoria the cobalt net has caught some big fish, leading trainers with huge teams and winners of virtually every feature race and multiple training premierships. These trainers have certainly enjoyed the riches that racing offers.

These trainers are yet to face their day of reckoning at the RAD Board and the current manoeuvring is foreplay to these hearings. However some might say we should expect more from the leading trainers in upholding the integrity of racing.

Certainly such trainers have enjoyed more of the spoils, but equally they are the yard stick that other smaller trainers follow, and when a leading trainer is caught doping the fallout for the industry is massive.

The need to maintain the integrity in racing and the public confidence in racing integrity is the cornerstone of a legal case which is often used as a legal precedent in drug cases. The case from Western Australia's Supreme Court upheld the need to impose very stringent rules on those wishing to participate in racing for rich rewards and the four judges determined that the privilege of participating in racing may well be taken from a trainer if they present a doped horse for racing, even without actual fault of their part.

The stewards in the long running Sam Kavanagh cobalt case in NSW have referred to the WA precedent, and one suspects it will be part of Victoria's cobalt cases.

There is clearly a need to restore public confidence in racings integrity in the face of doping charges by high profile trainers.