By: Craig Brennan
A tentative date has been given by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board to hear charges against those involved in the Lovani case, described as “potentially the biggest racing inquiry” in memory.
Racing Victoria stewards have charged eight people in connection to the probe that emanated from the alleged raceday treatment of the Robert Smerdon-trained Lovani at Flemington last October.
Group 1-winning trainers Smerdon, Tony Vasil and Stuart Webb along with former trainer Trent Penutto, stable staff Greg and Denise Nelligan and Danny Garland all declined to enter pleas to their charges at a directions hearing on Tuesday while Brisbane-based Liam Birchley indicated through his legal counsel that he will be pleading not guilty.
RAD Board chairman Judge John Bowman said: “This case is potentially the biggest racing inquiry I can remember, bigger than the (1981) Ararat Cup which involved one race.”
He has tentatively set April 30 as the commencement date for the hearing which will follow a second directions hearing on March 1.
Judge Bowman and RV stewards counsel Jeff Gleeson would like to hold one hearing into the charges against all eight.
Judge Bowman said the hearings should now be referred to as the Aquanita inquiry as it goes beyond Lovani.
“All involved have some link to Aquanita,” he said.
Gleeson told the hearing there was a circle of trust amongst the participants.
“The thrust from stewards is there was a knowledge across all of these people as to what was occurring,” Gleeson said.
“These cases are factually intertwined.”
However counsel representing the majority of those charged would prefer the RAD Board to hear their cases individually.