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A blood sample rather than urine should be used to test for cobalt levels in horses, a pharmaceutical expert has told an inquiry.

Father and son trainers Lee and Shannon Hope are fighting charges after three of their horses returned cobalt levels above the threshold of 200 micrograms per litre of urine.

Urine tests can detect the presence of a drug but for a threshold test a blood sample provides a more robust measure taking into account all the variables that might arise, Professor Colin Chapman told Victoria’s Racing and Disciplinary Appeals Board on Monday.

“My basic belief is if you want a figure which is robust you don’t use urine, you use blood,” Prof Chapman, from Monash University’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Studies, said.

The Hopes are arguing that their feed, supplements and injectable medication regime resulted in the high cobalt readings.

Prof Chapman has told the inquiry the readings of Best Suggestion (510 micrograms per litre), Choose (450) and Windy Citi Bear (290) could have occurred from long-term use, short-term within the rules of racing or short-term use outside the rules.

Under cross-examination by Jeff Gleeson, QC, for Racing Victoria stewards, Prof Chapman said he could not say which was more likely.

Gleeson asked: “You don’t advance the innocent administration as disclosed as being more likely?” Prof Chapman replied: “My wording is that it is possible.”

Prof Chapman said it was possible the long-term program of nutritional supplementation and injectable medicines containing cobalt could result in it accumulating in a horse’s body.

That could result in its unpredictable excretion including occasions where the level could exceed the declared raceday threshold, he said.

Gleeson has questioned why thousands of other horses did not produce frequently high readings, if the accumulation explanation held.

Prof Chapman repeatedly said there were many factors involved.

“If there’s accumulation and then other factors come into play then of course what you’ve seen happen can happen,” he said.

The inquiry has heard the supplementation regime was basically the same for all of the Hopes’ 25 horses and had been given for many weeks before the high readings recorded for the three in June to September last year.

The Hopes have pleaded not guilty to the administration, or causing to be administered, the prohibited substance as well as the presentation of the horses to race with a prohibited substance in their system.

Prof Chapman said the type of supplements used by the Hopes were like people taking a multivitamin.

“We take it to optimise our health. It’s that sort of thing,” he said.

“You’re optimising performance.”

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