Claim horses drugged to frame trainer

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - June 10, 2018

Horses from a lead­ing har­ness rac­ing sta­bles must have been de­lib­er­ately doped by an out­side party, an ap­peal hear­ing in Auck­land has heard.

The claims emerged dur­ing an ap­peal into a $14,000 fine handed down to lead­ing trainer Robert Dunn and his son John, af­ter three of their horses re­turned pos­i­tive tests for caf­feine last June.

Robert Dunn, who op­er­ates the coun­try’s sec­ond most suc­cess­ful sta­ble be­hind only the Mark Pur­don – Natalie Ras­mussen juggernaut, is adamant his trio was de­lib­er­ately spiked with a pow­er­ful cock­tail of eas­ily de­tectable drugs to frame him. It is be­lieved to be the coun­try’s first case of some­one nob­bling horses to win, not lose – if any of the horses won, post-race tests would in­evitably re­veal they had been doped and their trainer would be in the gun.

But Dunn said the op­por­tu­nity to prove foul play was lost when the Rac­ing In­tegrity Unit stum­bled in its in­ves­ti­ga­tion. At the cen­tre of the claims is an in­crim­i­nat­ing phone call to a fel­low Can­ter­bury trainer in­form­ing him that the Dunn sta­ble had three pos­i­tive swabs com­ing meet­ing.

The caller, a for­mer Dunn sta­ble em­ployee whose name was sup­pressed by ap­peal tri­bunal chair­man Mur­ray McKech­nie, some­how knew that Rishi, Hay­den’s Med­dle and Billy Badger, who won five races be­tween them at the two-day meet­ing, would test pos­i­tive even be­fore of­fi­cials knew of the breaches.

Af­fi­davits ob­tained by Dunn’s pri­vate de­tec­tive from the per­son called, and his fa­ther, pinned the date of the call down to June 18, just seven days af­ter the meet­ing.

Given the rac­ing lab­o­ra­tory did not de­clare the pres­ence of caf­feine in the sam­ples un­til July 4 and did not con­firm it un­til July 6 – mean­ing the RIU did not even know the re­sult – it was damn­ing ev­i­dence. How could this per­son have known of the im­pend­ing pos­i­tives un­less he had been in­volved in the nob­bling or knew who did it?

Dunn’s coun­sel Paul Dale, who pro­vided the RIU with this cru­cial in­for­ma­tion in Oc­to­ber, and also alerted po­lice, told the ap­peal tri­bunal he would have ex­pected the RIU’s first duty would be to con­firm from the two-day the date of the tele­phone call, which would have el­e­vated the nob­bling claim from sus­pi­cion to fact.

But dur­ing its nine-month probe, rac­ing’s polic­ing body never sought the tele­phone records of the man or the per­son he called.

In­stead the RIU in­ter­viewed the man who, rep­re­sented by lawyer Mur­ray Branch, was less than co­op­er­a­tive and de­clined to an­swer a num­ber of ques­tions.

A se­nior Christchurch de­tec­tive en­gaged by the RIU to re­view the case never quizzed the man or the per­son he called about the date and could not be per­suaded by Dale of the im­por­tance of this dis­cov­ery.

‘‘Yet here was an al­le­ga­tion of very se­ri­ous crim­i­nal con­duct,’’ Dale told the tri­bunal.

Chris Lange, ap­pear­ing for the RIU, said it did not have the power to seek tele­phone records, but Dale told how he had re­cited to the de­tec­tive sec­tions of the Crimes Act that al­lowed for it.

Dale fol­lowed up with the RIU in De­cem­ber but even­tu­ally was forced to file him­self in the High Court for third-party dis­cov­ery of the phone records. He wrote to Voda­fone to get the records but af­ter a lengthy de­lay, Voda­fone replied that it no longer had them as six months had elapsed.

Lange de­scribed as spec­u­la­tive the fact that fur­ther ev­i­dence may have strength­ened the ar­gu­ment that a third party was re­spon­si­ble.

The com­mit­tee took into ac­count that pos­si­bil­ity by not rul­ing it out com­pletely, Lange sub­mit­ted, but noted that the CIB de­tec­tive’s re­view found the RIU’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be ‘‘de­tailed, thor­ough and ro­bust’’.

Dale sub­mit­ted that had the RIU bet­ter in­ves­ti­gated the tele­phone call, and the caller been ques­tioned in a for­mal hear­ing, mo­tive might have been es­tab­lished.

The Dunn camp has its own sus­pi­cions about why they were tar­geted but is adamant that – based on the ex­cre­tion time of caf­feine – the horses were doped at their sta­bles at least 48 hours be­fore they raced and be­fore they trav­elled north.

Lay ad­vo­cate Leo Mol­loy, who acted for Dunn at the orig­i­nal hear­ing in March, says who­ever was re­spon­si­ble knew what they were do­ing. The horses were hit with a pow­er­ful cock­tail – caf­feine, a stim­u­lant, and phenylbu­ta­zone, a po­tent anal­gesic, de­signed to make them run faster and feel less pain. Both were high pro­file, eas­ily de­tectable drugs.

Rishi, Hay­den’s Med­dle and Billy Badger were all found to have ‘‘bute’’ in their sys­tems, but only one horse was marginally over the thresh­old and within the mar­gin of er­ror.

Mol­loy, who ne­go­ti­ated for no charges to be laid over the painkiller, told the ap­peal tri­bunal the RIU’s fail­ure to pur­sue the tele­phone records was just one of a raft of ‘‘dead bod­ies’’ that it was keen to bury by agree­ing to pur­sue just a $4000 fine.

In his sub­mis­sions, Dale pointed to the lengths Dunn went to try to prove his team was got at.

Dunn cal­cu­lates it has cost him close to $50,000, in­clud­ing le­gal and pri­vate de­tec­tive fees and a new $20,000 cam­era sur­veil­lance sys­tem of his en­tire prop­erty. He also com­pen­sated the own­ers who lost win­ning stakes by re­mit­ting train­ing fees.

The da­m­age to his busi­ness has been in­cal­cu­la­ble, he said. McKech­nie, who re­duced the fine to $7800, said it was not the tri­bunal’s job to solve the nob­bling mys­tery ‘‘but if the man who made the tele­phone call was in some way re­spon­si­ble it seems a fool­ish thing to do to ad­vise peo­ple in ad­vance’’.

Also fool­ish was the phone text, which Dunn showed the chair­man, from the same per­son who made the phone call, to one of Dunn’s sta­ble em­ploy­ees.

Sun­day Star-Times can­not name the trainer re­ferred to, but it read: ‘‘Me and . . . will have the last laugh, what­ever hap­pens’’.

Billy Badger, above, win­ning the Nel­son Pine In­dus­tries Win­ter Cup in Nel­son last year, was one of three horses from sta­bles op­er­ated by Robert Dunn and son John, right, dosed with per­for­mance en­hanc­ing drugs, in­clud­ing caf­feine.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.