Five trainers and three stable employees have been found guilty of corrupt practices in what Racing Victoria Appeals and Disciplinary Board chairman judge John Bowman has called “one of the darkest and longest chapters in the history of Australian turf.”
The so-called Aquanita case, named for the stable involved in the long-running scheme, involved what Australians call “top-ups” on race day. The bicarbonate loading, known as milkshakes in the United States, is believed to reduce the lactic acid buildup in muscles that causes a horse to get tired. They are prohibited by racing authorities on race day.
Bowman said the investigation, launched when a stablehand was caught on video administering the prohibited substances on race day, uncovered “a long-running systematic conspiracy to try and obtain an unfair advantage in well over a hundred races over seven years. … There is a litany of brazen attempts to cheat and to obtain an unfair advantage over many years by a well organized team.”
The evidence included thousands of text messages exchanged among the conspirators over the years.
Disciplinary measures are expected to be issued later this week
The following statement was issued by Racing Victoria, the governing body of racing in the state of Victoria, which includes the city of Melbourne.
The Racing Appeals and Disciplinary (RAD) Board today handed down their findings into the Aquanita Case, after charges were laid against five trainers and three registered stable employees, based on the evidence compiled during a four-month investigation by Racing Victoria (RV) Stewards.
The RAD Board have today announced that all eight people have been found guilty of charges relating to the alleged raceday treatment of numerous horses. They are:
- Mr Robert Smerdon (trainer)
- Mr Greg Nelligan (stable employee)
- Mrs Denise Nelligan (stable employee)
- Mr Stuart Webb (trainer)
- Mr Daniel Garland (stable employee)
- Mr Tony Vasil (trainer)
- Mr Trent Pennuto (trainer)
- Mr Liam Birchley (trainer)
The RAD Board found that all eight were guilty of dishonest, corrupt, fraudulent, improper or dishonourable practice in that they were party to the administration of alkalinising agents and/or medications to a horse or horses on a raceday.
The RAD Board also found Mr Smerdon and Mr Nelligan guilty of administering medication to a horse on raceday without the permission of the stewards, while Mr Nelligan was found guilty of lay betting on a horse under the control of his employer, failing to comply with an order of the Stewards and refusing to give evidence at a Stewards’ inquiry.
Penalty submissions will be heard by the RAD Board on Thursday, 10 May 2018 at 10am.
Statement by Racing Victoria Chief Executive, Giles Thompson:
“We welcome the guilty verdicts against all eight licensed and registered persons involved in the Aquanita Case as we believe it sends a very strong signal to anyone who thinks they can undermine the integrity of the sport by actively breaching the Rules of Racing.
“It also is a ringing endorsement of the investigative work of our Integrity Services team who found these breaches and ran an exhaustive four-month investigation before laying charges against these eight people.
“Our primary objective is to uphold the integrity of the sport and to enforce the Rules of Racing to ensure that every horse is able to compete on a level playing field and we have continued to invest in better systems and capability to achieve this.
“We are committed to ensuring that the very small minority who seek to breach the Rules of Racing and undermine our sport are found, investigated and ultimately prosecuted. That is what our participants, our customers and the wider public expect us to do.
“I want to thank our Integrity Services team for their efforts and remind all the hard-working, passionate and committed participants who abide by the Rules of Racing that we won’t shy away from our role in protecting the integrity of the sport and the welfare of our horses so that they can compete on a level playing field.
“We will now read the RAD Board’s judgement in detail before finalising our submissions on penalties that we believe will accurately reflect today’s decision and the seriousness of the respective breaches of the Rules of Racing.”