Smerdon had a long 'habit of cheating', Aquanita hearing told

Racing Victoria investigators have for the first time released damning footage from surveillance cameras of float driver Greg Nelligan treating Lovani at Flemington last October with a modified plunger.

On the first day of day of the Aquanita hearings at the Melbourne County Court, Jeff Gleeson QC told the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board that it was the precise moment “a knowing, brazen and systematic” cheating ring was busted.

Trainer Robert Smerdon.

Trainers Robert Smerdon, Stuart Webb, Tony Vasil, Trent Pennuto and Liam Birchley – and three stable employees Greg and Denise Nelligan, and Daniel Garland – have been charged with a total of 271 counts following the detection of alleged raceday treatment.

The results of the test samples taken from Lovani at Flemington on October 7 showed traces of bicarb and a small sample of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a banned substance in Australian racing.

"It was, at least for Smerdon and Nelligan, a habit of cheating," Gleeson said.

Nelligan was quizzed about who he worked for and the reason that a pink paste could be found on Lovani’s mouth and bit.

“Something I made up,” Nelligan said. “What’s the name again? It’s a gel.”

Gleeson described the events from the video. “From a hidden vantage point, Nelligan was seen entering the box alone without a horse at 2.50pm,” he said.

“At 3.09pm he entered again and closed the sliding door of the box.

“He [Nelligan] removed a yellow bag from under his jacket and took a white syringe plunger out of bag inserted it into the side of the [horse’s] mouth.

“A steward then yelled out and you can imagine the surprise and dismay of Nelligan upon realising he had been observed.

“He, in a forlorn attempt to cover the matter up, attempted to conceal the syringe plunger.

“The nozzle was cut off and black electrical tape wrapped around the plunger.”

Nelligan is not appearing at the RAD Board hearing. He now works in Perth.

Gleeson said that when Nelligan was asked why the continual reference to “topping or top ups” was referred to in the hundreds of text messages that went between the Aquanita network, he said “it was a reference to topping up the horse’s feeds and water with – nothing to do with race-day treatment”.

However, Gleeson showed numerous examples of horses over the past seven years being treated on the day of their racing with the message going out for a “top up”.

“That’s just not right,” Gleeson said. “This has just been widespread cheating.

Gleeson also described how the operation was systematically put into place on a daily basis.

When stewards questioned Smerdon about the message, all he would say is: “I can’t recall.”

The Aquanita scandal has rocked Australian racing. Those charged who will not be appearing are Smerdon and Nelligan, as well as Nelligan's wife Denise who also told stewards in evidence that the “top up” consisted of the use of bicarb.

Stable employee Garland had his lawyer Tim McHenry pass on a medical certificate for his non-appearance at the hearing.

It’s unclear whether trainers Webb, Vasil and Pennuto will give evidence. They were not present on Monday, the opening day of the hearing.

Birchley, who faces three charges of dishonest, corrupt and fraudulent behaviour, is expected to give evidence early on the second day of the hearing.

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