The leaking of text messages is disappointing but does not affect the Aquanita racing case, a judge says.
Most of the eight people charged in the bi-carb case have pleaded not guilty although multiple Group One-winning trainer Robert Smerdon has yet to enter a plea.
Stable employees Greg and Denise Nelligan will not participate in the case, the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board heard on Thursday.
Racing Victoria stewards downloaded 17,000 text messages from Greg Nelligan’s phone but only a sub-group were relevant to the case, the tribunal heard.
Some of the texts and information about the stewards’ case were published in a newspaper, prompting a couple of defence lawyers to raise the issue of whether their clients could receive a fair hearing.
RAD Board chairman Judge John Bowman said the leak was disappointing but ultimately did not affect the case.
“Disappointing as it may be, the leaking of the material provides absolutely no grounds for arguing that the prospect of a fair hearing has been compromised or adversely affected,” he said.
Bowman said no information was published that everyone involved in the case did not already know.
He stressed it was not a criminal trial involving a jury.
Trainers Tony Vasil, Stuart Webb and Liam Birchley, former trainer Trent Pennuto and Smerdon stable employee Daniel Garland have all pleaded not guilty.
Smerdon reserved his plea.
Defence counsel Paul O’Sullivan said the Nelligans will have no part in the hearing and wanted to plead no contest to the charges.
Bowman said that would be taken to be a not guilty plea.
Vasil’s barrister Patrick Wheelahan said his client wanted the charge against him struck out.
He said there were only four texts, or four small groups of texts, among the 17,000 on Greg Nelligan’s phone that involved Vasil.
Wheelahan said there were examples of other trainers who communicated with Nelligan who were not charged.
“Mr Nelligan is said to be moonlighting,” Wheelahan said.
“There are references to other trainers outside of Aquanita that he is communicating with.”
Bowman criticised Racing Victoria over the summary of evidence initially provided to the eight people charged, describing it as disappointing and effectively useless.
But he rejected requests to postpone the hearing that will begin on April 30.
The charges, which date back seven years, relate to race day treatments involving alkalising agents, commonly known as bi-carb.
The investigation was sparked by the withdrawal of the Smerdon-trained Lovani from a race at Flemington in October because of a suspected race day treatment.
The eight charged all had links to the Aquanita Racing group, Bowman said.