‘One in 27 million’ chance of cobalt reading occurring naturally, Hopes’ hearing told

Trainer Peter Moody is facing cobalt charges. Photo: Pat ScalaThe chance of one of the horses at the centre of a cobalt scandal returning the recorded elevated level of the substance – without intervention – was one in 27 million, a leading expert says.

Thoroughbred trainers Shannon and Lee Hope appeared before the Racing Appeals Board on Thursday, fighting to continue working in the industry in the face of positive urine tests returned by three of their horses last year. The horses had recorded cobalt readings above the permissible threshold of 200 micrograms per litre in urine.

The Hopes are the first two of five leading n trainers — including Peter Moody, Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh — charged with both presentation and administration in relation to cobalt positives..

Their Sydney-based lawyer Robert Stitt QC said his clients accepted that the substance could be performance enhancing but, in a surprise move, entered a not guilty plea to all charges, including one of presenting horses with cobalt in their systems on race day.

Stitt argued that the scientists who would present evidence on behalf of the racing stewards had failed to take into account the “bio-accumulation” of cobalt in the horses.

He said once tissue reached a saturation point with a substance, it would then start accumulating, and that meant the Hopes’ horses could have a returned the high readings as a result.

Veterinarian Martin Wainscott had conducted a trial on five horses over three weeks, feeding and administrating the same medicines the Hopes said they had given their horses.

In cross-examination of Wainscott, Stitt argued he had not accurately modelled the Hopes’ regime, because the trial period was too short and did not take into account that cobalt could have built up in the Hopes’ horses’ systems.

When questioned by stewards’ counsel Jeff Gleeson CQ, Wainscott rejected the claim, saying he was not aware of any trials that had shown accumulation could result in very high readings of cobalt.

Stitt sought to suggest that the trial of five horses could not be considered statistically significant, but Wainscott said it had been approved by the Department of Primary Industries in NSW.

In his opening remarks, Gleeson flagged that a chemistry professor had submitted a report  stating that the chances of the Hopes’ horse, Best Suggestion, returning a cobalt reading of 510mg/L naturally was about one in 27 million.

The chances of Windi City Bear returning a cobalt reading of 270mg/L naturally was one in 1 million and of Choose returning 450mg/L was one in 12 million, Gleeson said.

Stitt said Lee Hope had been licensed under the racing act for 49 years and been a trainer since 1976 without ever being charged or found guilty of breaking any rules. His son Shannon had been licensed for two decades and had a similarly spotless record, he said.

Stitt indicated that he intended to contest all charges, in part on the basis that Racing Victoria’s rules had been interpreted incorrectly by the stewards.

Fellow accused Flemington trainers O’Brien and Kavanagh will have their cases heard on November 28, while Moody’s case will be heard on December 14.