16th September 2019

Victoria tribunal upholds three of four horse doping bans

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has upheld three bans imposed by Racing Victoria in May last year, after the body found four horse trainers guilty of administering alkalinising agents and/or medication to horses on racedays. The VCAT dismissed appeals by Robert Smerdon (life ban), Stuart Webb (four year ban) and Tony Vasil (three year ban) against their sanctions, but upheld Liam Birchley’s appeal against his one year ban.

“We welcome the Tribunal’s decision to find Robert Smerdon, Tony Vasil and Stuart Webb guilty of serious offences that have undermined the integrity of the sport”, said Racing Victoria’s Manager of Integrity Services, Jamie Stier, in a statement. “We acknowledge the Tribunal’s decision regarding the appeal by Liam Birchley and, having just received notification of their decision, we will now take our time to carefully review the judgement before considering our options.”

In May 2018, Racing Victoria sanctioned five trainers and three stable hands following an investigation into the treatment of Lovani at the Turnbull Stakes in October 2017. Lovani was then owned by Aquanita Racing, one of Australia’s most successful racing stables. Its employees included Smerdon, Nelligan, and Birchley. Following the scandal, the company changed its name to Neerim Lodge, Caulfield.

The inquiry grew to encompass over 100 instances of alleged doping of horses stretching back seven years. In total, 271 charges were issued against the eight people, which include treating horses with alkalising agents – such as sodium bicarbonate – prior to races using modified syringes (a practice known as ‘milkshaking’). 

It is understood that by using a ‘milkshake’, the lactic acid produced by the horse is neutralised, therefore preventing muscle fatigue and improving the horse’s performance. The charges also included various breaches of betting rules and failure to cooperate with investigators.

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