It has been described as the biggest scandal in the history of Australian horse racing, with well-known industry figures found guilty of doping-related offences.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on May 8, 2018

Five trainers and three stablehands have been found guilty of doping their horses over a seven-year stretch.

Trainers Robert Smerdon, Tony Vasil, Stuart Webb, Trent Pennuto and Liam Birchley, and stablehands Daniel Garland, Greg Nelligan and Denise Nelligan — all of whom had connections to Aquanita Racing — were found guilty of systematic doping.

Smerdon and Vasil are the highest profile of the trainers involved. Between them they’ve won 2,625 races, 23 Group 1s, and amassed $98,253,362 in prize-money since 2000.

The cheating is said to have impacted up to 100 races between 2010 and 2017, and there have been unconfirmed reports that some of the country’s blue riband races like the Melbourne Cup and Golden Slipper have been affected.

The conspiracy centres around banned race-day treatments, most notably the use of bicarb soda, known as milkshaking.

Dr Paul Martin, President of the Australian Veterinary Association of Victoria, told The Guardian in January that administering sodium bicarbonate gives runners “a 1% edge”.

“What makes an athlete tire is the build-up of lactic acid in the body, which then says to the nervous system, ‘slow down’,” Martin said.

“It’s pretty well proven that giving extra levels of bicarbonate can delay the onset of fatigue… it could be the difference between first or fourth.”

The probe began last October after a Racing Victoria Compliance Assurance Team member observed Greg Nelligan allegedly treating Lovani with a modified syringe plunger prior to a race on behalf of Smerdon.

Victoria’s Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board handed down the verdict on Tuesday, saying this was “probably the biggest scandal and the most widespread investigation in the history of Australian racing”.

“This was a long-running systematic conspiracy to try and obtain an unfair advantage in well over a hundred races over seven years.

This was a long-running systematic conspiracy to try and obtain an unfair advantage in well over a hundred races over seven years.

“There has been dishonest, corrupt or fraudulent, improper or dishonourable actions of the highest order.”

Penalty submissions will be heard on Thursday.

Racing Victoria’s chief executive, Giles Thompson, commended the painstaking investigation that brought the guilty parties to justice.

“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,” he said.

“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.”