Smerdon and three others charged stand down and Show Cause letters issued to Vasil, Birchley, Nelligan in Lovani Inquiry

Aquanita Racing on Friday informed Racing Victoria that its employees Robert Smerdon, Denise Nelligan, Stuart Webb and Daniel Garland had agreed to stand down pending an upcoming hearing of the Victorian Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board.

Following charges issued by the Racing Victoria Stewards as part of the ongoing Inquiry into the race day treatment of Lovani, the Stewards on Friday issued letters to 3 charged persons requesting that they show cause why they should not be stood down pending the hearing and determination of the charges. The Stewards are considering possible action under Australian Rule of Racing 8(z) which states:

Notwithstanding anything contained within these Rules, and not in limitation of any power conferred by these Rules, where a person has been charged with a breach of these Rules (Or a local rule of a Principal Racing Authority) or a person has been charged with the commission of an indictable criminal offence, the Stewards pursuant to the authority delegated by the Principal Racing Authority, if of the opinion that the continued participation of that person in racing might pose an unacceptable risk to, prejudice or undermine the image, interests or integrity of racing may:

(a)  suspend and licence, registration, right, or privilege granted under these Rules to that person;
(b)  prevent any horse owned (or part-owned) or leased by that person from participating in any race or official trial;
(c) order that any registration of the transfer of ownership and/or training of a horse related to that person not be effected;
(d)  make any other direction or order related to the person which is in the interests of racing,
Pending the hearing and determination of the charge under these Rules, the relevant local rule or the relevant criminal charge. 

Show cause letters have been issued to the following persons:
• Mr Tony Vasil (trainer)
• Mr Liam Birchley (trainer); and
• Mr Greg Nelligan (former Aquanita Racing employee).

The parties have been invited to provide written submissions and further have been invited to attend at Racing Victoria on Monday 22 January 2018, should they wish to supplement those submissions in person or via legal representatives. Following receipt of any submissions and the consideration of any additional evidence, the Stewards will determine what, if any, action they consider appropriate with regard to each of the show cause notices.

The Stewards note, Mr. Pennuto is currently serving a period of disqualification followed by suspension. He has been advised by letter that if the charges against him have not been heard and determined prior to the conclusion of his suspension in May, he also may expect to receive a show cause letter.

The effect of Smerdon, Nelligan, Webb and Garland standing down is that they will be regarded as suspended persons. They will be permitted to attend race meetings but will not participate in their normal activities as licensed or registered persons.

Trainer Trent Pennuto is already serving a period of disqualification after being found guilty of AR 64G (Stomach Tubing) in August 2017.

“Racing Victoria welcomes Aquanita’s decision and its continued cooperation with this inquiry. It’s vital that the integrity of Victorian thoroughbred racing is protected while we await the outcomes of the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board hearing of these charges,” said Racing Victoria CEO, Giles Thompson.

“It is important to say that all of those charged by stewards on Tuesday have a presumption of innocence, however given the serious nature of the charges the Stewards believe this is an appropriate course of action for the Aquanita personnel to have taken. 

"Under the Australian Rules of Racing, the registered and licensed personnel facing charges can be stood down pending a hearing if their continued participation in racing might pose an unacceptable risk to, prejudice or undermine the image, interests or integrity of racing.

"The Stewards have made no determinations concerning the show cause notices involving Mr Vasil, Mr Birchley and Mr Nelligan and they will be given the full opportunity to put submissions to the Stewards in regards to their own situations."