Robert Smerdon has been banned for life. Picture: Ian Currie
Robert Smerdon has been banned for life. Picture: Ian Currie

Smerdon appeal fail could have major ramifications

RACING Victoria will consider disqualifying horses embroiled in the Aquanita scandal and redistribution of potentially vast amounts of prizemoney to connections impacted by the systemic cheating operation.

RV will consider the ramifications of the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal's decision to deny Robert Smerdon's appeal against life disqualification and a $90,000 fine before taking any action.

Smerdon, Stuart Webb (18 months) and Tony Vasil (18 months) were all found guilty of being party to alleged race-day doping involving sodium bicarbonate "top-ups" between 2010-17.

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RV lawyers alleged more than 100 races were potentially affected by the actions of seven people.

Greg and Denise Nelligan (life), Trent Pennuto (two years) and Danny Garland (one year) were all disqualified for their roles in the affair, which involved races ranging from Group 1 contests to bush maidens.

Of the eight people originally charged, only Liam Birchley (one year) was successful in overturning Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board bans at VCAT.

VCAT deputy president Heather Lambrick's decisions on Tuesday now paves the way for RV to consider horse disqualification as impacted owners of losing runners consider pushing for compensation.

While RV has not publicly identified how many races were won by horses covertly doped on-course with bicarb top-ups via modified syringes, it is thought at least 50 races could have been compromised.

Leading owners are now certain to push for answers.

Robert Smerdon has been banned for life. Picture: Ian Currie
Robert Smerdon has been banned for life. Picture: Ian Currie

RV set out its position regarding potential disqualification - specifically mentioning the Aquanita case - in its annual report.

"Subject to all avenues of appeal by the parties being exhausted, RV stewards will consider whether an application(s) should be made to the relevant body with respect to the disqualification of any particular horse(s)," it said.

"The disqualification of any horse(s) may bring rise to a future liability through the upgrading of placings and the consequent payment of revised prizemoney.

"Following a review of the facts and details available as at the date of signing the accounts, RV believes that the current allowance for any potential future liability for payment of future revised prizemoney remains appropriate."

It also indicated it could pursue Smerdon and others.

"RV retains its right to seek recovery of prizemoney paid to connections of disqualified horses," it said.

Lambrick raised the issue of how prizemoney and stud value could have been distorted by Smerdon's actions after she found him guilty of 78 counts relating to the doping scheme.

"The exact impact of Mr Smerdon's conduct will never be known," Lambrick said.

"It will never be known with any certainty whether the proven administrations resulted in horses winning who should not have won or horses losing who should have won.

"It will never be known whether punters were deprived of winnings and/or other owners, jockeys and trainers of prize money and/or increased stud value.

"The conduct however raises the very real possibility of these occurrences."

Lawyer Tim McHenry told Lambrick that Smerdon's financial situation is "bleak" and that "in the event of his horses being disqualified", "his potential liability amounts to millions of dollars."

Lambrick was warned by RV "that in light of Mr Smerdon's long and relatively successful career as one of Victoria's most prominent trainers, I should be wary of accepting that his financial position is weak without concrete evidence."

She agreed with RV and ordered the $90,000 fine to stand.

News Corp Australia

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