Equestrian Life Logo Red Grey
live TV (up)
photo galleries (up)
video galleries (up)
EQ Life Magazine
12 month subscription
Doping scandal hits Victorian racing industry

Racehorses - Labelled for reuse


By Equestrian Life

UPDATE: RV welcomes decision to stand down Aquanita Racing employees

It began with alleged race day treatment of a horse on Turnbull Stakes day and has now been described as one of the biggest racing integrity issue ever in Victoria — and possibly Australia.

Today, major mainstream news outlets have revealed that nearly 300 charges have been laid against at least eight people in relation to allegations of systematic doping of racehorses. High profile names include Group 1 winning trainers Robert Smerdon, Tony Vasil, Stuart Webb and Liam Birchley.

The drama began to unfold on Turnbull Stakes day at Flemington back in October, where Winx raced to her 21st consecutive victory. Following an undercover investigation by Racing Victoria’s Integrity Services Department, six undercover operatives caught stableman Greg Nelligan using a plunger to administer what is alleged to have been a paste made up of sodium bicarbonate. The paste was administered to a horse by the name of Lovani, trained by Robert Smerdon.

Sodium bicarbonate, when given in close proximity to a race, blankets the build up of lactic acid and thus has the effect of reducing fatigue towards the end of a race. Sodium bicarbonate works best when administered as close to race time as possible.

Racing Victoria (RV) bans the use of any treatment on racehorses a clear day before they race; to combat the issue of sodium bicarbonate drenches and other race day treatments, RV increased the time period in which a horse much arrive at the track before a race to three hours. Turnbull Stakes day marked the first meeting horses had to be on course three hours — not two — before racing.

It is believed that some racehorses may be given a sodium bicarbonate drench via stomach tubing prior to arriving at the track, and then this is topped up secretly on course closer to the race using a modified syringe plunger — this is where Nelligan was caught. Stewards allege he has been involved in more than 100 counts of alleged illegal race-day treatment over seven years in conjunction with Smerdon.

After questioning Nelligan, stewards also uncovered a “gold mine” of information on his phone, which formed part of an intense investigation over the past three months.


Robert Smerdon.

It is believed that race day treatment of horses also lead to betting plunges.

Those named in the investigation so far alongside Smerdon, Vasil, Webb, Birchely (who all have current or prior links to management company Aquanita Racing) and Nelligan include disqualified trainer Trent Penutto and stablehand Danny Garland.

The majority of charges thus far relate to alleged race day treatment of racehorses. Under the Rules of Racing, stewards have the power to stand down participants prior to any hearing, but this is yet to be decided. Each case will be heard by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board at a date yet to be set.

The investigation is on-going.




Issue 40 medium web advert

Back to top. Printable View.