Racehorse trainer loses licence over huge haul of banned drugs

2009-02-23 00:00

High Court Judges of Appeal yesterday reinstated a decision by the National Horseracing Authority of SA (NHA) to warn off racehorse trainer Cyril Naidoo for life, effectively ending his training career.

While differing on some legal issues, KZN deputy Judge President Phillip Levinsohn and Judge Malcolm Wallis agreed in reserved judgments handed down in the Pietermaritzburg High Court yesterday that the sanction imposed on Naidoo by the NHA in September 2007 was correct in all the circumstances and should be reinstated.

In doing so they over-ruled an earlier finding by Judge Kate Pillay, who confirmed Naidoo’s convictions on two charges relating to his possession of an unusually large quantity of prohibited drugs and attempting to mislead the board of inquiry, but set aside his “warning off” by the board.

The saga unfolded after a race in the Vaal on October 27, 2005 when a horse trained by Naidoo tested positive for a prohibited drug, Ibuprofen.

The incident led to a search of his stables at the Vaal, during the course of which numerous schedule three, four and five drugs and receipts and accounts for the supply of the drugs to Naidoo, were seized.

In evidence Naidoo explained that he did not possess the drugs for use at his stables, but said they were intended to be administered to mares, yearlings and weanlings he had standing on a stud farm in Queenstown that he visited once or twice weekly.

His evidence was later contradicted as “false” by the owner of the stud farm, who also claimed Naidoo tried to induce him to change his statement.

Naidoo was convicted by the board of two charges of possessing the prohibited drugs in question, as well as a charge that he attempted to mislead the board.

Dealing in yesterday’s judgment with Naidoo’s complaint that he was sentenced on the basis of a finding by the board that he was guilty of some “unstated malpractice” with which he had not been charged, Judge Wallis said this argument had no merit.

He said there was no evidence before the board to suggest that Naidoo’s possession of the drugs could have been for anything other than an improper use.

He said during the debate over sanction Naidoo was repeatedly asked to assist the board by telling it the reasons for which he possessed those quantities of drugs.

“In the absence of disclosure on his part the inference that his possession of them had been for some or other improper purpose connected with horseracing was overwhelming,” Judge Wallis said.

He said in the circumstances the inference drawn by the board of inquiry was “not only rational but inevitable” and did not involve condemning Naidoo on a charge he did not face.

Wallis also dismissed a submission by Naidoo’s advocate, N. Beharie, which suggested that the fact that the board of inquiry consisted of three white males was inherently prejudicial to Naidoo’s interests.

Judge Wallis said if this type of objection were sound then it would be an everyday occurrence in the courts that parties appearing before them could seek the recusal of the judicial officers appointed on the basis of race.

“The neutrality of a court or a board of inquiry … or any similar tribunal is not dependent on the racial group from which its members are drawn, but on their actual impartiality in dealing with the issues before them,” he said.

According to court papers, Naidoo’s career in horseracing dates back to 1989 when he was licensed as a stable employee. He went on to become assistant trainer to Mike Riley and was granted his own trainer’s licence in 1993.

Naidoo said in court documents as far as he was aware he was the first person of colour to be granted a trainer’s licence.

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