The Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) Racing Appeals and Disciplinary (RAD) Board today heard a matter in regards to charges issued by HRV Stewards under Australian Harness Racing Rule (AHRR) 190(1) against licensed trainer Mr Kerry O’Riley.
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 O’Riley related to a urine sample collected from the horse ‘Royal Delight’ upon it being presented to trial at Melton on 10 May 2016. 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 O’Riley explained he did not use any arsenic based products and that the only arsenic on his property was within the treated timber fence posts on the property. Subsequent analysis of samples of these fence posts revealed they 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 O’Riley acknowledged the presence of the substance in the horse presented to trial. The HRV RAD Board formally found Mr O’Riley guilty though imposed no penalty in all the circumstances of the case. 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, the analysis of the fence posts from Mr O’Riley’s property, Mr O’Riley’s co-operation with the investigation, exemplary blemish-free record in a training career in excess of 35 years and his support of the integrity of the industry throughout such time. 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 O’Riley had taken measures in response to the February 2016 warning notice issued to trainers and the circumstances of the horse’s environment in the lead up to the relevant trial.
The HRV RAD Board ordered that ‘Royal Delight’ be disqualified from Trial 6 at Melton on 10 May 2016, under AHRR 195, and that the placings be amended accordingly.