Liam Birchley and Tony Vasil can continue training horses while they appeal their disqualifications over the “Aquanita eight” race day treatments scandal.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Friday granted stays of Birchley’s one-year disqualification and Vasil’s three-year ban pending the outcome of their appeals.
Birchley will be allowed to train horses in his home state after the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission, which had enforced the Victorian ban, implemented the VCAT decision.
His barrister Michael Grant-Taylor QC argued the Queensland trainer faced extraordinary financial circumstances that were far-reaching and ruinous if he remained disqualified.
VCAT deputy president Heather Lambrick accepted Birchley would likely have remained disqualified in Queensland if she did not grant the stay.
She said the integrity of racing was of vital public importance but the community interest had to be balanced in such cases, noting there was ample evidence about the impact the disqualification would have on Birchley.
“It is relevant in these circumstances to note that although it is important to protect the public interest in the integrity of racing, it is of some note that that applicant does have an unblemished record over a lengthy training career,” she said.
Lambrick said the public would expect that those accused of serious offences were entitled to attempt to clear their names.
It was also possible a significant portion of Birchley’s one-year ban would be served by the time the appeal was decided by VCAT, she noted.
Lambrick also granted Vasil’s stay application and linked it to a continued undertaking with RV to freeze the Victorian trainer’s share of any prize money until the case was finally determined.
She highlighted Vasil’s health issues and noted the case against him was arguably more circumstantial than that for Birchley.
Barrister Patrick Wheelahan said while Vasil only had five horses in work, his life revolved around horse training.
The disqualification meant Vasil could not go to any sales or even walk on to a race track.
“Effectively he’s ostracised and excommunicated from the church, if you want to put it like that,” Wheelahan said.
Both trainers’ barristers criticised the RAD Board’s findings, which Grant-Taylor labelled as unsophisticated and Wheelahan as pithy and wholly inadequate.
Racing Victoria opposed the stay applications, with barrister Jeff Gleeson QC defending the RAD Board’s findings of the clearest breach of an Australian racing rule covering dishonest, corrupt or fraudulent, improper or dishonourable conduct.
All five trainers and three stablehands were found guilty, with the RAD Board declaring the long-running systematic conspiracy to cheat using “top-ups” of sodium bicarbonate as the biggest scandal and one of the darkest chapters in Australian racing history.
Gleeson noted RV had yet to decide whether to appeal the leniency of Birchley’s ban.