Trainer Robert Smerdon at the Silver Bowl Final series-Race 7 at Flemington. Saturday, July 9. 2016. Picture: David Crosling
Trainer Robert Smerdon at the Silver Bowl Final series-Race 7 at Flemington. Saturday, July 9. 2016. Picture: David Crosling

Smerdon, Nelligans banned for life in doping scandal

ROBERT Smerdon, Greg and Denise Nelligan have been hit with the largest penalties in Australian racing history after being disqualified for life for their roles in Aquanita doping scandal.

The Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board threw the trio out of the sport for their roles in the infamous case - and is still considering whether to impose a $100,000 fine on Smerdon.

Five others were also banned.

Stuart Webb (four years), Tony Vasil (three years), Trent Pennuto (two years), Liam Birchley (one year) and Daniel Garland (one year) were disqualified, pending appeals.

Earlier, legal counsel for Smerdon claim the disgraced trainer faces potential financial ruin after the RAD Board was asked to impose a $100,000 fine and lifelong disqualification on the Aquanita doping scandal ringleader.

Tim McHenry, appearing for Smerdon, said the Group 1-winning horseman might be pursued for compensation by owners of horses he trained that might potentially be disqualified in the next phase of the case.

The RAD Board is yet to consider whether they should demote horses found to have received illegal sodium bicarbonate top-ups, some in Group 1 races.

There is also the prospect of owners whose runners were beaten by Aquanita horses seeking compensation.

McHenry said Racing Victoria's demand for a $100,000 fine for Smerdon - and the prospect of civil court action against the veteran trainer - could have a "potentially disastrous financial outcome for Smerdon."

McHenry said to impose a fine on 63-year-old Smerdon "at this stage is completely premature."

He also said the spectre of life disqualification was "shattering" for Smerdon.

RV also asked for life disqualifications for the Nelligans as the RAD Board hears penalty submissions over their roles in Australian racing's "biggest scandal."

RV's Jeff Gleeson told the tribunal Group 1-winning trainer Smerdon should also be fined $100,000 for his participation in what the board described as "the darkest and longest chapter in Australian racing history."

 

Greg and Denise Nelligan. Picture: Twitter
Greg and Denise Nelligan. Picture: Twitter

Gleeson also asked for five-year disqualifications for Tony Vasil, Stuart Webb, Danny Garland, Trent Pennuto and Liam Birchley.

The eight, all former Aquanita Racing employees, on Tuesday were found guilty of a total of 271 charges relating to race-day doping using bicarbonate "top-ups."

Gleeson said the group had committed the "most serious offence imaginable in racing - or any other sport."

In asking for the penalties, Gleeson told the RAD Board the Aquanita Eight were "guilty of the most serious offence imaginable in racing … probably in any sport they are guilty of systematic cheating.

"They individually and collectively have cast a shadow over thoroughbred racing," he said.

Birchley has appealed against the RAD Board finding and will take his case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Smerdon and the Nelligans were found guilty of more than 250 charges.

In delivering his findings, Judge John Bowman described Smerdon, with Greg Nelligan, as the "driving force behind the illegal 'top-ups' conspiracy."

Bowman said Greg Nelligan was the "architect" and "promoter" of a cheating ring which operated from 2010-17 - in some of the nation's biggest races.

Denise Nelligan was portrayed as whistleblower in "one of the darkest and longest chapters in the history of the Australian turf."

"There is a litany of brazen attempts to cheat and obtain an unfair advantage over many years by a well organised team," Judge Bowman said.

 

THE PENALTIES

 

Robert Smerdon - disqualified for life

Greg Nelligan - disqualified for life

Denise Nelligan - disqualified for life

Stuart Webb - disqualified for four years

Tony Vasil - disqualified for three years

Trent Pennuto - disqualified for two years

Daniel Garland - disqualified for one year

Liam Birchley - disqualified for one year