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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

European Melbourne Cup horses may have been targeted by doping ring

Robert Smerdon: alleged to have ordered horses to be doped
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Ed Dunlop said on Wednesday he had no knowledge of an alleged doping ring operating in Australia, following local media reports horses trained by him and Aidan O'Brien may have been targeted in the build-up to the 2015 Melbourne Cup.

The suggestions came after the Herald Sun obtained text messages between Greg Nelligan, the box driver at the centre of the 'milkshaking' scandal, and trainers including Liam Birchley and Group 1-winning handler Robert Smerdon.

In one exchange, Nelligan intimates to Birchley he will be giving "top-ups" to two Melbourne Cup runners from the same stable on the day of the race three years ago. Dunlop, O’Brien, Lindsay Park trainer David Hayes, Gai Waterhouse and Chris Waller all fielded two starters.

Contacted by the Racing Post on Wednesday, Dunlop, who ran the ill-fated Red Cadeaux and fourth-placed Trip To Paris, said: "I am not, and never have been, aware of anything to do with this."

Hayes also robustly defended his horses, telling RSN927’s Racing Pulse: "It's got nothing to do with us. Absolutely not. We can guarantee it is nothing to do with Lindsay Park.

"There have always been rumours that this has been going on. I won't deny that I've always heard those. But to read them in such extreme detail – if they're right – it's horrific. It's just terrible.”

The 'top-ups' are alleged to be the administration of sodium bicarbonate (also known as TCO2) shortly before a race in a bid to gain an edge by reducing lactic acid build-up and, therefore, fatigue. It usually involves a mixture of baking soda, sugar and water being inserted via the nostril. The conspirators would then back the doped horses to win.

In one string of messages on the day before the 2015 Melbourne Cup, Birchley asks Nelligan: "Can u org a top up for tomorrow pls."

Nelligan responds: "Roberts [Smerdon] ordered 5, I’ll need a wheelbarrow to carry them all." He then adds: “I’ll be walking funny, got two cup horses as well. Don’t tell Robert.” 

In another set of messages, this time between Nelligan and Smerdon, the pair are alleged to discuss doping Group 1 runner-up Mosheen less than an hour before the 2011 Thousand Guineas:

Nelligan: "Does Mosheen have a guard?" 

Smerdon: “No. Want to topup her and Stoneblack only."

Nelligan: "Will do. 50 mins ok s Black."

Smerdon: "Only if they've tested him otherwise wait until 40 when the previous is due to be run."

Nelligan: "No test will wait. Mosheen tested at 2 hours, go 40 again?"

Smerdon: "I'd say go whenever you like." 

Tony Vasil: well known for exploits with Elvstroem and Haradasun

Smerdon, Birchley and Nelligan, trainers Tony Vasil, Stuart Webb and Trent Pennuto, stable employee Danny Garland and office worker Denise Nelligan were last month charged with a total of 271 racing offences dating back to 2010 over the alleged scam. All had links to the Aquanita Racing management company.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Giles Thompson, chief executive of Racing Victoria, said: "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 Victorian thoroughbred races.

"We are committed to the highest levels of integrity to ensure that those in the minority who seek to breach the rules of racing and undermine our sport are detected, investigated and ultimately prosecuted.”

Related stories:

Group 1-winning trainers named in 'milkshaking' scandal

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


These 'top-ups' are alleged to be the administration of sodium bicarbonate shortly before a race in a bid to gain an edge

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Robert Smerdon
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