Trainer Matt Cumani (Image: Racing Photos)
Cumani cops strangles suspension
Trainer Matt Cumani has been fined $20,000 and had his licence suspended until August for failing to adhere to Racing Victoria protocols following the outbreak of strangles at his stable last year.
Cumani pleaded guilty to two charges, one for conduct prejudicial to the image of racing and the second for not notifying authorities that he had horses who were infected with the highly contagious disease.
His period of suspension is due to start in seven days, allowing time to organise the transfer of horses under his care.
RAD Board Judge John Bowman said he was close to issuing Cumani with a period of disqualification but opted for a suspension due to his favourable references.
Cumani, 36, was represented at the hearing by barrister Joe Ferwerda, who said his client had taken full responsibility for his actions and was remorseful as to how the situation played out.
It was revealed at the hearing that Cumani first became aware that a horse in his care was showing signs of strangles on October 27 but did not alert stewards until November 23, despite several warnings from his stable vet.
During that time, Cumani was preparing imported horse Grey Lion for the Melbourne Cup, from the quarantine centre at Werribee, and conducted a stable open day at his Ballarat base.
This open day involved many owners visiting his newly-built facility, with the owners mingling with horses who had been exposed to those suffering from strangles.
The open day was held on November 19, which was Ballarat Cup Day.
"Luckily the spread of disease was not as bad as what it could have been," Judge Bowman said.
"A clear message must be sent to trainers in the industry that the reporting of outbreaks of listed diseases must be done in the quickest possible manner.
"You did not do this and were too worried about your own interests.
"Immediate notification is necessary so equally immediate steps of quarantine can take place.
"(Racing Victoria steward) Mr Ogilvy pointed out in April 2016 a complete meeting at Wangaratta was abandoned and a racecourse was placed in lockdown when an on-course trainer notified stewards that a case of strangles was detected in one horse at the stables.
"This was an example of the drastic and immediate action that needs to be taken."
Judge Bowman was extremely disappointed that Cumani failed to report the issue, despite being told to do so by his own vet.
"You were specifically told of your duty to report by your vet Dr Anderson in later October 2016 but you did not do this until November 23, when the cat was effectively out of the bag by then," he said.
"Instead of quarantining your stable of horses, you simply continued to train and certainly took some measures in relation to controlling it, it was no means complete.
"Your primary obligation is to report to the stewards immediately, instead you pressed on, possibly influenced by the fact you were going to have your first Melbourne Cup runner.
"Essentially you put your interests ahead of those of the stewards, your fellow trainers, proprietors of other racing establishments and your owners.
"You did this at a time of the year when racing was very much in the spotlight, the Melbourne Cup was run and so too your local Ballarat Cup, potentially jeopardising the most important day of the Ballarat racing calendar."
Terry Henderson was present at the hearing and provided a written reference supporting Cumani.
While not reading the entire reference, Judge Bowman explained that Henderson was irate with the way Cumani handled the situation and he wasn't pleased with being kept in the dark.
"Mr Henderson's lengthy reference is particularly well balanced and expressed, apart from strongly supporting you, it also makes apparent Mr Henderson's anger and disappointment at what you have done in jeopardising not only your own career and training operations but also potentially the operations of others," he said.
"Strangles is highly contagious and Mr Henderson's observation in going beyond his own direct interest and speaking about the welfare of others is very appropriate and important.