*What do Remiss, Valhalla, and Mattjestic Rebeck all have in common? well, apart from all having tested over the allowable TCO2 level they are all very nervous horses which became particularly stressed on the day the day in which the tested high.
NZ Trainers and Drivers Association Secretary Peter T Cook, who has had his own personal experience with Valhalla, tells more.
As you have probably read among the Remits being submitted to this years’ HRNZ Annual Conference, the Board, after a prolonged period of consideration, has finally decided to bring the allowable level of TC02 in line with pretty much every other jurisdiction in the World, i.e.36mmol/L, with a “guard band” of 1.0mmol/L.
At the same time, however, they have also recommended an astonishingly large increase in the penalties involved for trainers who are found guilty for a first time. From a previously recommended $2-4000 for a first offence, the Board is proposing an automatic 2 year disqualification. The change has been likened to an increase from a ten year prison sentence to the death penalty in the real world.
In other words, this would potentially be a career ending penalty for most, if not all trainers. The understanding is that most Australian states have a six month penalty for a first offence which is more realistic.
Not only is this proposal totally out of “kilter’ with penalties attached to other charges, it is likely encourage someone whose career is in jeopardy and who had the financial wherewithal, to contest the matter in the Countrys’ legal system. All has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it? Do we really want thousands of dollars more of Industry money keeping lawyers in the lifestyle they have become accustomed to?
And while the Association is strongly supportive of measures against cheats, there is no guarantee that such legal proceedings against HRNZ would not be successful. Such a penalty offers no window for either the RIU or JCA for anyone to be found innocent. With a fine, even though it goes against natural justice, that may reluctantly be acceptable, but a two year ban is a different story.
This decision has been made following long awaited, and somewhat controversial, advice from the HRNZ Veterinary Advisor Andrew Grierson. It is interesting to note that, in the press release from HRNZ, Chairman Gary Allen is quoting as saying “any positive will in almost all certainty be the result of an administration of prohibited substances.” The use of the word “almost” is interesting, considering that, in the past and currently, the RIU appear to have a policy of totally ignoring any evidence put before them suggesting a trainers’ innocence.
This time last year, I had cause to have discussions with him concerning a horse in the stable I help out in, Valhalla. Andrew reeled off statistics (same as those accompanying the remit) stating categorically that the chances of a horse returning a level of 36mmol/L rises from around 15,000 to just over 2 million for a level of 37 without having TC02 administered.
On the day that he was tested, Valhalla (normally a nervous horse at the races at the best of times) attempted to climb the walls of the float en route to the track, was bathed in sweat, was very agitated, and his eyes were out on storks as he was geared up. The RIU, as I could have told them, found no evidence of either Bicarbonate or anything to administer it with in the stables. The official reading was 38.2 which presumably makes him by far the rarest horse on the planet!
While the requirement to present drug free horses is understandably paramount, this needs to be balanced with the rules of natural justice, and disqualifying a trainer for two years for a high level of a substance already present in every horse, doesn’t seem to match those requirements. It is quite possible that a Court of Law may take the same view, particularly when there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the trainer. Mark Jones is currently enduring the same nightmare of presenting compelling evidence that he did not administer bicarb, only to have it totally ignored by the authorities.
As for performance enhancement, both Valhalla and Remiss, Marks’ horse that is currently under investigation, both finished last in their respective races!
Peter T Cook (Courtesy of the Trainers and Drivers Association)