Anti-doping chief insists Kelly was not absolved of blame over cobalt finding
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board's head of anti-doping Lynn Hillyer has rejected the suggestion that Pat Kelly was absolved of blame in relation to his March point-to-point winner Warendorf testing positive for elevated levels of cobalt.
Warendorf was disqualified at an IHRB referrals hearing on Tuesday and Kelly, who trains the Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy, was fined €1,000 and ordered to pay €3,000 in costs on behalf of the regulator.
Warendorf beat the 5-2 joint-favourite Burgess King, the only other finisher, when winning a Belclare point-to-point by 30 lengths on March 1 and was subsequently sold to race in Britain.
The international threshold for cobalt – which naturally occurs at a low level – in plasma is 25ng/ml, but Warendorf's blood test levels were 38.8ng/ml in the A sample and 38.3ng/ml in the B sample.
The IHRB referrals committee published no explanation for the cause of the positive test, yet its report indicated the committee "accepted that the most probable explanation was that the horse was exposed to cobalt proximate to race".
Unlike racing under rules, there is apparently no specific rule in point-to-points pertaining to raceday administration.
The report acknowledged Kelly's responsibility as the licence-holder, but then referred to extenuating circumstances it did not elaborate on and was also especially vague on the causes of what was a particularly high cobalt reading.
"Given certain unusual and specific aspects of the case they accepted Mr. Kelly’s assurance that he had not administered anything to the horse," the report read. "They did not find sufficient evidence to suspend the permit in the submissions before them.
"Two competing hypotheses had been presented by the parties but [the committee] were satisfied that the IHRB evidence was sufficiently strong and scientifically based to be relied on."
Speaking subsequently, Hillyer said the scientific evidence backed up Kelly's submissions.
"Our view, based on the science, is that the horse had to be exposed to a source of cobalt on the day of the race," she said. "We don't know what that source was – it was never identified.
"It was the panel’s view that although the scientific evidence demonstrated that Warendorf had been exposed to cobalt shortly before the race, there was no further evidence that Mr Kelly had administered it – and the panel accepted his word that he had not.
"Therefore, whilst recognising that as the licensed handler he was the person responsible for the horse and so should face a sanction, that sanction was limited to a fine rather than a licence suspension.
"One of the hypotheses was in relation to a particular supplement, which the horse was exposed to on a regular basis on the yard. The last administration of that was on the evening before the race. In our expert's view, that did not explain the findings.
"The reason we didn't put that in the press release was because we didn't want to confuse people by the supplement – it had absolutely nothing to do with the finding post race.
"We know that because we know when Mr Kelly said he gave it, and we also know that even if that was not correct, the maths doesn't add up in terms of the amount of cobalt that was in that particular product.
"In my opinion and that of Professor Stuart Paine, the supplement had nothing to do with the finding and the panel accepted that. His responsibility is recognised in the €1,000 fine."
In relation to the lack of information provided in the report, which is of little use to trainers concerned about inadvertently breaching the cobalt threshold, Hillyer added: "I will communicate more detail to trainers, but I will cover that in a different way and the point is noted for future reference."
The Warendorf case was one of seven pending following five disqualifications at IHRB headquarters last week. One of those, Camlann, resulted in Shark Hanlon being hit with a suspended 18-month sentence after his Galway winner tested positive for elevated levels of cobalt.
There have now been 13 disqualifications due to banned substances this year, compared to just five in each of the last three years.
The spike in positives – 21 so far with six cases still to be heard – coincides with the regulator's cessation of its long-standing ties with BHP Laboratories in Limerick in February, since then it has been using LGC's lab in Newmarket.
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