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RV after life bans for Smerdon/Nelligans

Racing Victoria has called for trainer Robert Smerdon to be banned for life over the Aquanita case.

Counsel for Racing Victoria stewards has called for life bans for three of the offenders in the Aquanita case.

In handing down his submission on penalty to the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board on Thursday, Jeff Gleeson asked that trainer Robert Smerdon be disqualified for life and also fined $100,000 while registered stablehands Greg and Denise Nelligan be disqualified for life.

He added the RAD Board should disqualify the remaining five, trainers Liam Birchley, Stuart Webb, Tony Vasil and Trent Pennuto along with registered stablehand Daniel Garland for a minimum of five years for offences relating to race day treatments.

The Aquanita Eight were found guilty by the RAD Board on Tuesday with penalties to be handed down later on Thursday.

The eight were charged in January after Greg Nelligan sparked an investigation after being caught allegedly attempting to inject an oral paste to Lovani at Flemington on October 7.

Gleeson described Smerdon, the leading trainer of the group, along with Greg Nelligan, as the driving force of the “top ups”.

He said of Smerdon there were 115 occasions where the Board found him guilty of top ups.

“It was deliberate and sustained conduct,” Gleeson said.

“He knew what he was doing was a breach.”

Gleeson said the Board had found Smerdon and Nelligan had worked together and while Nelligan tried to take the blame, it was “futile”.

He said Nelligan’s wife Denise seemed at times more eager than her husband.

“She must have known the conduct with her husband was making a difference,” Gleeson said.

In asking for a minimum five-year disqualification for the remaining five, Gleeson said they were knowing and calculated.

He said Birchley, the only one to give evidence, had lied to the Board.

“His conduct as a high profile trainer cheating on the biggest day of the year deserves punishment,” Gleeson said.

Legal counsel for Birchley, Travis Schultz, said via a phone hook-up that Brisbane-based Birchley was, of the eight, the odd one out.

“He travelled horses to Melbourne mainly for the spring,” Schultz said.

“His three charges should be seen as far less than the others.”

Smerdon, Webb and Garland’s counsel Tim McHenry objected to Gleeson’s assertion his clients had thumbed their noses at the Board.

“My clients declined to appear before the Board. They should be given credit for it,” McHenry said.

RAD Board chairman Judge John Bowman stated the three member panel did not put a lot of weight on the fact the trio were no-shows at the hearing.

McHenry said a $100,000 fine was inappropriate for Smerdon saying it had never been discussed.

He said should there be any civil action it could have a huge impact on Smerdon.

“There is the potential for a disastrous financial impact,” he said.

Before the hearing on Thursday, Judge Bowman said the Board would not be entering any immediate thoughts on possible disqualifications of horses as a result of the alleged “top ups”.

“It’s an area of difficulty and one we don’t want to go into today,” he said.

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