Five horse trainers and three stablehands have been found guilty of doping-related offences by Victoria’s Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board, after an investigation into one of the biggest horseracing scandals in Australian history.
Trainers Stuart Webb, Tony Vasil, Trent Pennuto and Liam Birchley, and stablehand Daniel Garland had all pleaded not guilty.
Trainer Robert Smerdon reserved his plea, and stablehands Greg and Denise Nelligan entered “no contest” pleas.
Together, they faced 271 charges.
Racing Victoria, through lawyer Jeff Gleeson QC, had previously told the board that the eight racing professionals were involved in “knowing, brazen and systematic” doping between 2010 and 2017.
The charges included administering horses with banned race-day treatments, including sodium bicarbonate, or “top-ups”, over the seven-year period.
It can enhance performance by slowing the build-up of lactic acid, so horses can run longer without tiring.
Last month, the board saw footage of racing stewards confronting Mr Nelligan as he was allegedly doping a Mr Smerdon-trained horse at Flemington.
The video footage — which the board declined to publicly release — showed Mr Nelligan in a box with the racehorse Lovani and a modified syringe plunger allegedly containing sodium bicarbonate paste concealed in a yellow plastic bag last October.
When officials asked him what he was doing, Mr Nelligan could be heard saying “no-one else has got anything to do with it” and claiming the pink paste on Lovani’s mouth and bit is “something I made up … it’s a gel”.
Mr Gleeson told the hearing Mr Nelligan made a “forlorn attempt” to hide the plunger under his clothes.
More to come.