All eight people have been found guilty over the Aquanita race day treatments case that a judge labelled the biggest scandal in Australian racing history.
Multiple Group One-winning trainer Robert Smerdon and float driver Greg Nelligan could be described as the driving force behind the illegal “top-ups” conspiracy, Victoria’s Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board found.
Trainers Smerdon, Liam Birchley, Stuart Webb, Tony Vasil and Trent Pennuto and stable employees Greg and Denise Nelligan and Daniel Garland were all found guilty under an Australian racing rule dealing with dishonest, corrupt or fraudulent, improper or dishonourable practices.
RAD Board chairman Judge John Bowman said all eight were, to varying degrees, involved in a plan to insert sodium bicarbonate and tripart paste into horses on race day by way of “top-ups” so as to gain what was thought to be an unfair advantage.
“This matter, the Aquanita case, involves probably the biggest scandal and the most widespread investigation in the history of Australian racing,” he said on Tuesday.
The board agreed with Racing Victoria stewards that text messages from Nelligan’s phone gave a clear overall picture of what occurred.
“This was a long running, systematic conspiracy to try and obtain an unfair advantage in well over a hundred races over seven years,” Bowman said.
“The Aquanita case represents one of the darkest and longest chapters in the history of Australian turf.
“There is a litany of brazen attempts to cheat and to obtain an unfair advantage over many years by a well organised team.”
The RAD Board will hear submissions on penalties on Thursday and likely hand them down the same day.
The penalties for what the board described as the clearest of breaches of the racing rule are up to the tribunal and could include disqualification and warning off.
“There has been dishonest, corrupt or fraudulent, improper or dishonourable actions of the highest order,” Bowman said.