Racing Victoria Logo

Racing Victoria Logo

Courtesy of Racing Victoria

Trio of Successful Australian Trainers Face Charges

Charges largely tied to pre-race 'milkshaking,' medications.

Three accomplished Australian trainers are among the eight license holders facing charges, largely tied to pre-race "milkshaking" and medication treatments of horses, following a Racing Victoria investigation.

Racing Victoria stewards issued such charges Jan. 9 against multiple group 1-winning trainers Robert Smerdon and Tony Vasil, as well as multiple group stakes winner Liam Birchley. Racing Victoria said Smerdon and his assistant Greg Nelligan are charged with such illegal pre-race treatments more than 100 times from 2010-2017.

In a release outlining the various charges, Racing Victoria stewards pointed to a particular case where Nelligan allegedly administered or attempted to administer a "milkshake"—an alkalinizing agent—to group-placed Lovani ahead of a planned start in the listed Paris Lane Handicap Oct. 7, 2017 at Flemington Racecourse. Racing Victoria reports that after one of its investigators observed that alleged, illegal race-day treatment, a wide-ranging investigation followed that resulted in charges for eight license holders. 

Stewards allege that Smerdon was party to the administration of alkalinizing agents and/or other race-day medications administered to horses on race day 115 times from June 26, 2010-Oct. 7, 2017. Stewards allege that Nelligan was a party to administration of alkalinizing agents and/or race-day medications 123 times from June 26, 2010-Oct. 7, 2017. Nelligan also is accused of breaking rules by betting against horses in the stable and, after the investigation began in October, refusing to hand over his cell phone to stewards.

Vasil allegedly was party to the pre-race administration of alkalinizing agents or race-day medications seven times from December 2010-June 2013. Stewards say Birchley was party to similar practices three times from November 2011-November 2015.

Giles Thompson, chief executive officer of Racing Victoria—a public company that provides independent governance of Victorian racing—said it spent AU$8 million ($6.25 million) in 2017 to significantly boost the capability and resources of its integrity department, including its compliance assurance team. He said this investment has resulted in an increase in the number of stable inspections and in its ability to monitor on-course activity.

"This investigation began in October when a compliance assurance team member observed the alleged race-day treatment of Lovani, prompting a wide-ranging investigation that has resulted in the laying of charges against eight people today for breaches of the rules of racing," Thompson said Tuesday. "We have continued to invest more in integrity services than other racing and sporting organizations and will continue to do so in the future to protect the integrity of our sport and ensure the sustainable future of an industry that supports more than 20,000 jobs.

"We have an outstanding integrity team that is committed to ensure a level playing field for all participants and customers and have worked tirelessly over recent weeks to finalize this matter as quickly as possible."

All eight people charged will have their cases heard by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board on a date to be determined. Others charged include Denise Nelligan, a stable employee of Smerdon accused of being a party to 13 pre-race administrations of alkalinizing agents or medications; trainer and Smerdon employee Stuart Webb, accused of three such violations; Smerdon employee Daniel Garland, accused of two such violations; and trainer and former Vasil employee Trent Pennuto, accused of four such infractions.

"Racing Victoria's primary objective is to protect the integrity of the sport and to enforce the Australian Rules of Racing, ensuring both a level playing field for all and the health and welfare of all horses competing in Victoria Thoroughbred races," Thompson said. "These are very serious allegations and the Racing Victoria Integrity Services Department and our stewards have worked swiftly to fully investigate these matters resulting in the laying of charges against eight people today."

Thompson said investments made in the area of integrity have paid off.

"It is vital that in order to maintain a world-class Thoroughbred racing industry that we have a world-class integrity regime that is strictly enforced," Thompson said. "Where we have a breach of the rules, our stewards and Integrity Services Department will take appropriate action to protect the integrity of the sport."