Suspended harness trainer Jamie Keast applauds a move to lift the allowable level of bicarbonate in racehorses but he warns lengthy automatic bans could crucify the innocent.
Keast, based at Amberley with his partner Henriette Westrum, has just been suspended for six months for his third breach of the bicarb rule, and says he is unlikely to return to training when his time is up at the end of the year.
''I've lost a lot of clients over this and I don't think I'll even bother training again,'' Keast said. ''I'm not making any money out of it.
''I can earn more money in 15 minutes shoeing a horse than I can training one.''
Keast said he basically put his hands in the air after Westburn Creed returned a level of 36.2 at Kaikoura last November even though he had not cheated.
''We knew after the last case that there was no point fighting them because of their strict liability rule and we're still struggling to pay off the last fine.''
Two containers of bicarbonate of soda were taken from Keats' feed room, along with a drenching tube and bucket but Keast denied that he put any bicarb into Westburn Creed's feed.
He said they regularly drenched horses who had raced, trialled, or done fast work with a mixture of substances which included DMSO and one tablespoon of baking soda.
But after Wally's Girl tested high last July they changed their practice and drenched their horses three days before a meeting, not two.
The RIU's veterinary adviser Andrew Grierson said an administration three days before the race could not have elevated the horse's TCO2 levels on the day.
Keast's counsel Mary-Jane Thomas submitted Westburn Creed had a throat condition which could have raised his bicarb level because it restricted the intake of oxygen and exhaling of carbon dioxide.
After Westburn Creed underwent surgery in mid 2012, his levels decreased but about a year later, in October, 2013, their vet discovered the growth had returned.
Thomas submitted Grierson did not expressly discount the possibility of the nasal obstruction being the cause, concluding rather that the readings did not support that as the likely cause.
Grierson said the level was best explained statistically by the administration of an alkalising agent.
Christopher Lange for the RIU said Westburn Creed's levels were between 32 and 34.1 when trained by Ivan Court, between 35.2 and 36.2 when with Keast and Westrum, and between 31.3 and 32.8 when taken over by Bob Rochford.
Keast says he's all in favour of a Harness Racing New Zealand remit which will be put at the annual meeting of clubs in Christchurch next month that the level go up one point - with the built-in margin of error it would mean the new cutoff was 37, a threshold neither of his horses would have tripped. But he said rather than having automatic minimum sentences of two years for a first offence, five years for a second and 10 years for a third breach, penalties should be determined by the level.
''We reckon we're innocent and there have been a lot of other people crucified for this already.
''Any vet will tell you this is not an exact science. Lots of factors like dehydration, feed, nervousness and respiratory conditions can have an affect.''
Keast will be allowed to continue driving in races, and carry out his farrier work but he cannot work horses or break them in until January.
Courtesy of Barry Lichter
Reprinted with permission of Fairfax media