Prominent Victorian horse trainers Mark Kavanagh and Danny O’Brien have won the right to keep competing for the foreseeable future, despite being slapped with multi-year bans over cobalt doping.
The Racing and Disciplinary (RAD) Board banned Kavanagh for three years and O’Brien for four years on Wednesday, after it found them guilty of using the substance for performance-enhancing purposes.
But the trainers then applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to review the case and temporarily suspend the bans.
At a hearing on Thursday, VCAT president Justice Greg Garde ordered the bans not be imposed until a new determination in the case is made by the tribunal.
A date for the re-hearing has not yet been set, but lawyers for Kavanagh and O’Brien were hopeful it could be as early as April.
“We are very keen to see this matter come as quickly as possible. We want to get on with it,” the trainers’ barrister Damian Sheales told the tribunal.
The trainers’ legal team will be granted more powers at VCAT than they had at the RAD board, including the power to subpoena and cross-examine witnesses.
Mr Sheales told the tribunal he would request documents from laboratories in Hong Kong and Western Australia, as well as racing stewards, pertaining to what occurred when his client’s horses were tested for cobalt.
He said the question of intent would form part of the case going forward.
Racing identities maintain innocence
O’Brien and Kavanagh — two of the biggest names in racing — have always maintained their innocence.
Both men have trained Cox Plate winners; Kavanagh with Maldivian in 2008 and O’Brien with Shamus Award in 2013.
O’Brien also won a Caulfield Cup in 2007 with Master O’Reilly.
The Kavanagh-trained Shocking won the 2009 Melbourne Cup.
One of Kavanagh’s horses tested positive for excess cobalt in 2014, while four of O’Brien’s horses were found to have exceeded allowable limits in the same year.
The pair have maintained they did not know a vitamin solution given to them by vet Dr Tom Brennan contained cobalt.
Dr Brennan pleaded guilty to the charges and yesterday was disqualified from racing for five years.
Cobalt has been likened to the performance-enhancing drug EPO because it can increase the number of red blood cells and improve a horse’s endurance.
However, the pair’s legal team has argued there is little scientific evidence to show cobalt has any performance-enhancing properties.
Lawyers for Racing Victoria and the trainers will next appear at VCAT on March 1.