The law is an ass….By Rob Young

The law is an ass….By Rob Young

John Thompson was fined over a positive.

In my opinion, the decision of the Racing NSW Stewards Panel to fine John Thompson $6,000 in the Astronomos case is the most mind-blowingly idiotic exercise of misplaced power I have seen in over 50 years of involvement in racing. No wonder many people in the industry despair of the way racing is policed, whilst – conversely – being very happy with how racing is currently being managed.

Let’s look at the facts of the case. It’s one that Mr Bumble – the Beadle in “Oliver Twist” – would be quite sympathetic to.

Astronomos returned a positive to the prohibited substance triamcinolone acetonide in a post-race blood sample after finishing fourth in the Group 3 JRA Plate at Randwick on April 15. That is not in dispute. The horse was disqualified and the owners lost the prize money. OK, that’s the Rule – but it isn’t the Rules!

Here’s where things get ridiculous.

In their report, the stewards said “The administration of triamcinolone acetonide was done in accordance with the provisions of Australian Racing Rule AR 64M, which prohibits a horse from racing within 8 clear days of the intra-articular administration of a corticosteroid”. So Thompson did not commit an offence under Rule AR 64M. He had authorised his vet to inject the horse’s stifle joint eight clear days from his race, and stewards acknowledged that he had acted in accordance with the Rules. No problem? Yes problem.

Sitting there a little further on is Australian Racing Rule AR 178. AR 178 says “when any horse that has been brought to a racecourse for the purpose of engaging in a race and a prohibited substance is detected in any sample taken from it prior to or following its running in any race, the trainer and any other person who was in charge of such horse at any relevant time may be penalised.” And isn’t that a “catch all”. It simply means that if a trainer brings a horse to the races with any trace of any prohibited substance, then the stewards, at their discretion, can issue a penalty.

What a load of BS. Here we have a trainer complying with one Rule that has a defined requirement, only to be penalised under another that has no defined requirement. It is precisely this kind of situation that makes it impossible not to sometimes question the stewards’ thought processes in dealing with racing’s participants.

There are several questions that really need answers.

 

  • How can it be fair that a trainer can comply with one Rule that is specific to the circumstances of injecting a horse with a legitimate treatment, but can then be penalised under another Rule that doesn’t have any specifics to it?
  • Does this mean that, to guard against being pinged under AR 178, trainers should now have any horse that has had a legitimate treatment with a prohibited substance tested for the presence of that substance prior to bringing the horse to the races, even if the race is to be run outside the withdrawal period specified by the Australian Racing Rules relating to that treatment?
  • Why was a penalty handed down? Yes, Astronomos tested positive, but the trainer had followed the relevant Rule – AR 64M – and the stewards acknowledged that. Did the stewards want to make a point to John Thompson? If so, why?
  • When was the last time AR 178 was invoked in this way?

 

Here is Thompson’s comment made when he announced that he won’t appeal the $6,000 fine under AR 178:

“I would strongly recommend to fellow trainers if treating a stifle joint to give longer than the official eight days,” Thompson said. I would suggest giving 10 days. It’s such a rarely treated area. In 25 years of training and working with large scale training operations – I’ve only seen it done twice. It’s disappointing to follow the guidelines yet still produce a positive result.”

Bloody disappointing might be a more realistic way of expressing it!

And just as disappointing was the stewards’ comments after the fine they imposed. The stewards posted a notice to trainers that they needed to be aware that, in the case of intra-articular injections, the withdrawal period will depend on the corticosteroid injected as well as the joint(s) injected. They said that, in certain situations, for longer-acting corticosteroids injected into joints other than knees and fetlocks, the recommended withdrawal period “may” be longer than the minimum stand down time prescribed under AR 64M. Specifically, the stewards said “trainers and their veterinarians must carefully consider the circumstances of each particular case before deciding upon the appropriate time of intra-articular injection before competition to ensure that the horse is presented without detectable residues of the corticosteroid administered”.

What a load of bureaucratic nonsense. The only way trainers and veterinarians can “carefully consider the circumstances” is to get the horse tested by a laboratory and turn up at the races with a clearance from that laboratory. So, if that is the case, where do I buy shares in the lab.? They are going to be overwhelmed with tests from trainers wanting to avoid AR 178. The costs of having a blood test done are far lower than the $6,000 John Thompson copped!

Here is the problem and here is the connection to Mr Bumble the Beadle. Mr Bumble, when confronted in court with a legal supposition, said “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass – a idiot”. The stewards are working on the supposition that trainers have the knowledge to comply with their wishy-washy notice. They haven’t, and the only way they can be safe is to have every horse tested.

There is absolutely no point in having a Rule of Racing that relates to levels of prohibited substances that is non-specific. Such a Rule, and AR 178 falls into this category, simply lacks natural justice, and that leads inevitably to the possibility of uneven application of the rule, and that in turn leads to the suspicion that the stewards could use the rule to pressurise certain trainers over others. Either the rule is specific and applies equally to everyone, and is clear in its’ meaning to everyone, or get rid of it.

Not to live in the past, but I couldn’t see Ray Murrihy running this kind of approach. No wonder some view the stewards panel with a certain cynicism! Maybe the powers-that-be in Racing NSW need to look at the management of the Stewards Panel a little more closely, maybe an injection of common sense and management expertise might be helpful.