The Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) Racing Appeals and Disciplinary (RAD) Board today heard a matter in regards to a charge issued by HRV Stewards under Australian Harness Racing Rule (AHRR) 190(1) against licensed trainer Mr Andy Gath.
AHRR 190(1) reads as follows:
A horse shall be presented for a race free of prohibited substances.
The charge under AHRR 190(1) issued by HRV Stewards against Mr Gath related to a urine sample collected from the horse ‘K D Muscles’ after it had been presented to race at the Horsham harness racing meeting on 14 March 2016 in Race 6, the ‘Pegasus Spur@ Woodlands Tontine Trotters Series Final. Racing Analytical Services Limited (RASL) reported that analysis of the urine sample revealed the sample to contain a prohibited substance, namely arsenic, in excess of the allowable threshold.
During the investigation Mr Gath explained that he did not use any arsenic based preparation and that the only possible explanation was the significant habit of K D Muscles chewing fence posts within its paddock. Subsequent analysis of relevant samples revealed the fence posts contained arsenic at levels consistent with Copper Chromium Arsenic (CCA) treated timber.
As background, with the acquisition of a machine capable of testing for cobalt by RASL (preventing the need for samples to be sent interstate or overseas), in June 2015 the laboratory (RASL) were also able to commence the routine testing of all collected urine samples for other metals including arsenic. With a number of samples above the threshold becoming apparent in racing jurisdictions, and common explanations as to the cause of such irregularities provided, the University of Melbourne were engaged to conduct an administration trial by RASL, HRV and other racing authorities that had also been screening raceday samples for the presence of arsenic.
At the RAD Board hearing, in addition to the consideration of statements from HRV Stewards and RASL, the HRV RAD Board considered a report from Associate Professor Cate Steel and Professor Ted Whittem from the University of Melbourne which centred on the extensive research conducted by the University of Melbourne where a trial was conducted to research the levels of arsenic in horses that had ingested a known amount of CCA treated timber sawdust. The trial revealed that it is a possibility that a horse could have a urinary level of arsenic that exceeds the threshold concentration if it chews and ingests a sufficiently large quantity of CCA treated timber. Further studies will be done in the future in an attempt to distinguish between the inorganic and organic forms of arsenic.
Mr Gath pleaded guilty to the charge issued under AHRR 190(1). The HRV RAD Board formally found Mr Gath guilty and in all of the circumstances of the case imposed a $2,000 fine which was fully suspended for a period of 12 months. In making this order, the HRV RAD Board had regard to the nature of the substance in that arsenic based products have been suggested by manufacturers as tonics that are purported to improve appetite or the appearance of the coat of a horse. The RAD Board also considered that the arsenic threshold had been developed a number of decades ago in Hong Kong in response to the suggestion (at the time) that horses were being ‘stopped’ through the use or arsenic rather than any suggested enhancement of performance. The HRV RAD Board particularly considered the results of the trial conducted by the University of Melbourne and the analysis of the fence posts from Mr Gath’s property. The RAD Board also noted Mr Gath’s guilty plea and his previous record which included one prior matter in 1999 for presenting a horse to race whilst not free of the metabolites of acepromazine. The RAD Board considered Mr Gath’s lengthy professional involvement in the sport with a training career stretching over 25 years and involving more than 9,400 horses being presented to race. The RAD Board considered the principles of the High Court decision of Veen v the Queen when taking into account Mr Gath’s one prior matter. The RAD Board also considered other precedent cases involving the substance, including the matter of Rasmussen in Queensland in 2015 whereby no penalty was imposed for such an arsenic case. The RAD Board noted that Mr Gath’s matter had arisen after the industry warning notice issued in February 2016 but prior to the further notice issued in October 2016 after the completion of the research. The RAD Board also noted that around the time of the original warning notice in February 2016, Mr Gath was in hospital. The RAD Board also considered that Mr Gath advised at an early stage that he accepted the findings of the laboratories and would be pleading guilty to the matter.
The HRV RAD Board ordered under AHRR 195 that ‘K D Muscles’ be disqualified from Race 6 at Horsham on 14 March 2016, and that the placings be amended accordingly.