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By John Schreck | Sunday, September 11, 2016

John Schreck, a former Chief Steward in both Sydney and Hong Kong, has seen both the colourful and the dark sides of racing. His wealth of experience and his deep knowledge of racing matters across the board is unquestioned and the reputation he built as a racing ‘lawman’ remains firmly entrenched in racing’s history. Shreck’s personal blog, ‘From the Sheriff’s Desk', appears exclusively on HRO.

The debate about mandatory penalties continues, particularly in Queensland where a proposed new standard penalty draft has been circulated.

Mandatory penalties are terribly easy for people in judiciary positions because they don’t have to give any thought to the matter.

It is just a lazy way of imposing penalties in my view.

They refer to the book and say, if this is the case you get twelve months ... out you go.

My granddaughter could do it.

It’s so easy to do that ... but it is not always fair, so I can fully understand why trainers are rightly concerned about the impact the new proposals can have on their business.


I don’t agree with mandatory penalties and I don’t believe they should be in place ... for a number of reasons.

Take the application of Australian Rule of Racing 178 concerning prohibitive substances for example.

It states, ‘When any horse that has been brought to a racecourse for the purpose of engaging in a race and a prohibitive 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 punished.’

Years ago I tried to have a particular part of the wording of that rule changed from ... ‘the trainer and any other person’ ... to ... ‘the trainer AND / OR any other person.’

It was only a one word change, but a critical one in my opinion as that one, tiny, little word could have changed the context of the rule altogether ... but it was howled down by authorities who believed that would make it too easy for trainers to be exonerated or cleared.

The authorities in those days were very strongly of the view that the buck always stopped with the trainer and were not interested in allowing a situation whereby a stable worker could simply put up his hand, take the blame and, by doing so, effectively clear the trainer of any wrongdoing.

That was their thinking and so the proposed change to the rule that I was pushing very hard for didn’t even get close to getting up.

It has always been difficult for trainers and it will be doubly difficult for them is the proposed new mandatory penalties come in.


If mandatory penalties lead to trainers being disqualified, for example, in relation to a positive test for a legitimate therapeutic substance ... that would be terribly, terribly unfair in my view.

Let me explain that.

There are shelves and shelves of substances that can be legitimately used ... expect, for the fact that the horse can’t have it in its system when it races.

Horses have to be treated. For example a lot of good trainers actually give their horses certain medications after they race, because it has been established that it helps them rest better and eat better in their stable circumstances ... which make a lot of sense to me, as do other legitimate treatments.

There is a particular timeframe in which these legitimate drugs can be used but, if a mistake is made in that area and there is a positive on race day for an otherwise legitimate drug it is still a far cry from an outcome in which drugs like elephant juice (etorphine) other more sinister drugs have been used.

There has to be an understanding of that fact and the need for the two situations to be treated differently and not just fall under one mandatory penalty system.

The fact is there are not many ‘drugs’ used in race horses. Most positives are to inadvertent administration of legitimate, therapeutic substances.

Most of the stuff that horses prove positive to, a vet will have in the boot of his car ... legitimately. Trainers could easily have them on the shelf in the stable ... legitimately, but they have been caught out on race day for some reason.

That does not necessarily make them cheats ... as might arguably be the the case against those who have used more, serious, outright prohibitive drugs.

There is no doubt that the latter group should face the harshest penalties possible but, as for mandatory, across the board penalties for positives?

It’s not a good idea!


The consequential effects of mandatory penalties, if they lead to disqualification, can also be so unjust!

Someone in Brisbane might have a hundred horses in work. He might have been a trainer for twenty years. He turns up a positive one day to some sort of legitimate therapeutic substance and is disqualified, because of a mandatory rule, for twelve months ... he loses all of his income, his staff are put off work etc, etc.

Compare that penalty to a country trainer who has one horse that he plays around with in the morning and then goes to work on the shire.

He similarly comes up with the same sort of positive and he also gets a year. He simply transfers the horse to his brother and continues to work on the shire.

The outcome makes really no impact upon him at all.

This example shows that while the positive swab ‘crime’ details will differ from case to case, so too will the outcome for trainers found guilty of a positive swap. The impact that follows will be of a particular, individual nature.

So, I fail to see where the same mandatory, across the board penalty standard can offer a fair result when individual case circumstances can differ to such an extreme.

To repeat one more time, my belief is that each case should ALWAYS be adjudicated on its own set of facts ...

... and to do otherwise is just unfair.

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