By: Peter Scargill
Further shocking revelations have surfaced about the actions of an alleged group of dopers operating in Australian racing, and how supposed tip-offs helped them ensure horses avoided drugs tests.
Among them is the apparent conversation between Group 1-winning trainer Robert Smerdon and box driver Greg Nelligan, two of the major players at the centre of the scandal, over the controversial application of Vicks vapour rub on a horse before a race in 2010.
Such a practice is associated with the use of ‘buzzers’ – or whips with electrical devices – which shock the horse. Vapour rub is smeared on a horse’s nose during trackwork before they are hit with the buzzer. On raceday, the ointment is used to convince the horse a buzz is coming, and therefore make them run faster.
In texts published by the Herald Sun, Smerdon tells Nelligan: “Also Vicks in nose after saddling up.”
Nelligan asks what it is for, prompting Smerdon to reply: “Improves his cold [and scares the f*** out of him].”
The alleged widespread milkshaking of horses – the use of a sodium bicarbonate solution to reduce fatigue and improve performance – has sent shockwaves through Australian racing, with suggestions dopers targeted runners on the day of the 2015 Melbourne Cup and could dose horses less than a hour before they were due to run.
Leaked messages also appear to show how tip-offs from other racing professionals enabled those doping the horses to avoid pre-race drugs tests.
Nelligan is reported to have received a message from another trainer informing him a horse would not be blood-tested before running at Geelong in 2010. The information proved to be correct.
Smerdon and Nelligan, trainers Tony Vasil, Liam Birchley, Stuart Webb and Trent Pennuto, stable employee Danny Garland and office worker Denise Nelligan were last month charged with a total of 271 racing offences dating back to 2010 over the alleged scam. All had links to the Aquanita Racing management company.