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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Group 1-winning trainers named in 'milkshaking' scandal

Robert Smerdon: veteran trainer stood down pending inquiry
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There was a further development in the 'milkshaking' scandal that has engulfed Australian racing over the weekend when a pair of Group 1-winning trainers allegedly implicated in what has been dubbed 'Aquagate' agreed to stand down pending an inquiry.

Veteran trainer Robert Smerdon, the most high profile of those accused, and fellow Melbourne-based trainer Stuart Webb are the trainers concerned.

Smerdon, who faces 115 charges dating back to June 2010, and Webb train at Caulfield under the umbrella of the Aquanita Racing management company, and their horses will be dispersed among Robert Hickmott, Henry Dwyer, John Sadler and Nick Ryan. Smerdon saddled a farewell winner at Flemington on Saturday with Al Dorama.

After a mammoth investigation into seven years of alleged doping, Racing Victoria last week laid a total of 271 charges against five trainers – all with either existing or previous links to Aquanita – and three stable employees, mainly involving the illegal raceday administration of alkalising agents from June 2010 until last year.

Racing Victoria stewards have also charged trainers Tony Vasil and Liam Birchley and asked them to show cause why they should not be stood down; Vasil faces seven counts and Birchley three.

Smerdon stable hand Glen Nelligan, who faces 123 charges, has also been asked to show cause; his wife Denise and fellow Smerdon employee Daniel Garland have stood down. The eighth person charged, trainer Trent Pennuto, a former employee of Vasil, is already serving a disqualification for a similar offence.

'Milkshaking', once the scourge of US racing (especially on the west coast), is the colloquial term for the administration of sodium bicarbonate (also known as TCO2) shortly before a race in a bid to gain an edge.

Designed to reduce the build-up of lactic acid thereby reducing fatigue, it usually involves a mixture of baking soda, sugar and water being inserted via the nostril.

Last week's charges allege systematic malpractice involving trainers employed by Aquanita, one of the country's largest operations with five trainers spread over three locations.

Tony Vasil: well known for exploits with Elvstroem and Haradasun
With more than 1,800 career successes, including 11 Group 1s in a 25-year career, leading Melbourne trainer Smerdon is the biggest name involved, although Vasil is well known for the exploits of multiple Group 1 winners Elvstroem, who won the Dubai Duty Free in 2005, and Haradasun, who won at Royal Ascot after joining Aidan O'Brien.

The investigation was sparked by a dramatic sting involving the Smerdon-trained Lovani at Flemington on October 7, when box driver Nelligan was apprehended by officers and a modified syringe immediately confiscated.

According to Melbourne's Herald Sun, integrity staff allege Nelligan "was observed using a plunger containing a paste on Lovani" after taking her into an enclosed swabbing stall at Flemington.

Nelligan has also been charged for failing to co-operate with stewards. "The paste contained in the plunger was analysed and found to contain sodium bicarbonate," adds the report.

All eight people charged will have their cases heard by the racing appeals and disciplinary board on a date to be determined.

A statement on the Aquanita website said the Aquanita brand would be discontinued but would function under another name.

"It is important to note the distinction between Aquanita Management Services [AMS] and the training side of the operation," it said. "AMS provides finance, taxation, OH&S [health and safety] and other administrative services to contracted trainers, who are ultimately personally responsible for the horses in their care and compliance with rules of racing."

For complete coverage of racing and bloodstock in Australia and New Zealand, download ANZ Bloodstock News every day


The paste contained in the plunger was analysed and found to contain sodium bicarbonate
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