In a landmark decision by the Greyhound and Harness Racing Appeals Tribunal (GHRAT), the positive swab to amphetamine returned by the Dave Righetti trained greyhound Thump Boxer, has been found to be caused by a drugged up racegoer.
Righetti subsequently appealed to the GHRAT against both the guilty finding and the penalty imposed by GHRRA Stewards at the initial inquiry. Righetti had pleaded not guilty at the GHRRA Stewards inquiry held on the 7th and 21st April 2009.
Since the offence Righetti had been granted a stay of proceedings which had enabled him to keep training and racing until the appeal could be heard. That appeal was held late last week, but official details have only just been made available to Australian Racing Greyhound.
Righetti’s appeal was based around the fact following the race several people who had been drinking and claimed to be part owners of the dog touched and patted Thump Boxer and shook Righetti’s, which in turn he then touched the greyhound with.
Righetti further made the case that one of the people involved held the greyhound’s muzzle during the post race photo, which was subsequently returned to Righetti and replaced on the greyhound.
Righetti claimed to not know the people involved in the post race celebrations.
Righetti made the contention that the greyhound could not have received the drug before he presented it to race. He maintained that he had not introduced the drug to the dog. Prior to the race it had been secured in his kennels, which could not be accessed and where the dog could not be touched.
According to the appeal report, “the stewards and this Tribunal viewed a video depiction of the presentation. It clearly demonstrated that some six men shook the Appellant’s hand. One patted the dog on or near its head. Another held its muzzle whilst photographs were taken. The actions and demeanour of these men were consistent with them having consumed a significant quantity of alcohol. For whatever reason, they were clearly excited or excitable”.
“The Appellant is seen to handle the dog, touching it very close to its mouth. Clearly, it could have licked that area. On the video, it is shown licking its lips. He maintained that he had kissed the dog by further touching it near the mouth. Yet again it licked its lips”.
Max Reading, one of the stipendiary stewards involved that night told the GHRAT that accompanied Righetti and Thump Boxer to the presentation dais following the race. He maintained it was his practice to make a record in his notebook if the dog was touched on the muzzle by strangers. He did not believe that this had occurred, but conceded that he did see a couple of people pat the dog on the back.
According to the Appeal report, “the video evidence and the observations of Mr Reading exclude as a possible source of contamination any contact between the part owners or any other strangers and the dog in that nobody apart from the trainer touched it in the vicinity of the mouth”.
Righetti’s contention was that one of the “part owners” had transferred the drug to Righetti’s hand, which he had then touched the greyhound around the head an mouth with, causing the drug to be ingested by the greyhound after the race in question.
In their defence against Righetti’s claims GHRRA Stewards called Mr Andrew Vadasz, Deputy Chief Analyst of the Australian Racing Forensic Laboratory, to give evidence. It was his opinion that “Mr Righetti would have felt dust and that he could not have failed to notice it”, had transmission of the drug occured in the manner being proposed.
However, in the course of his evidence before the Tribunal Mr Vadasz stated that he had no knowledge of any experiments which could demonstrate the possibility or otherwise of cocaine or amphetamine being transmitted manually to a dog, and later when asked whether he would expect the Appellant to feel powder on his hand, “he simply did not know if this would be the case”.
Dr Lewis, toxicologist, expressed the opinion, in effect, that the Appellant, a highly experienced trainer, would not have administered amphetamine, a drug so easily detected, knowing the dire consequences of detection. While that could not be considered expert opinion, it did carry weight with the GHRA, or in their words “had a common sense attraction to the Tribunal” …as …”the amount present was extremely small, 100 ng/mL.
Further the GHRAT found that the quantities detected in Thump Boxer were not of “such a quantity to have any stimulatory effect and accordingly there seems no obvious reason for it to have been administered pre-race”.
Dr Lewis opined that the drug could have been absorbed if someone had a small amount of it on his hands and allowed the dog’s mouth to have come into contact with them. The metabolite could have been produced in a swab if ingested from the Appellant’s hand.
Supporting Righetti’s claims of innocence were character references from NCA General Manager Adam Dobbin who described Dave Righetti as “dedicated, diligent and hard-working” and “of good character, honesty, ethical standards, integrity andprofessionalism”. Dobbin went on to say that the allegation Righetti would administer a drug to a greyhound was “completely out of character given the principles the Righetti applied to his training”.
Dobbin said that “through his dealings with Righetti, he always found him to be extremely meticulous when it comes to ensuring that he abides by all the governing laws in greyhound racing”, and that “he regarded him as an upstanding individual” and said “that greyhound racing was fortunate to have him as a participant”.
A reference was also tendered by the General Manager of the Richmond Race Club that concurred with Dobbin’s praise of Righetti.
Given the high praise heaped upon Righetti and his lengthy history in greyhounds in Queensland and New South Wales, the GHRAT found that “there is a reasonable possibility that the drug was not within the dog when it was presented and that it could have been ingested in the manner claimed by Righetti”.
In making that finding they determined the appeal upheld and quashed the prior finding of guilty and the 18 months disqualification. Accordingly Thump Boxer was restored as winner of the event and restored the original placings.