Trainer Robert Smerdon. Picture: AAP Images
Trainer Robert Smerdon. Picture: AAP Images

Symons ‘sickened, disgusted’ by Aquanita doping

MELBOURNE Racing Club chairman Mike Symons says he is astounded and disgusted by the alleged behaviour of the eight accused in the Aquanita Inquiry, revealing he is sickened by the scale of the doping scandal.

An Aquanita Racing (now Neerim Lodge) director, Symons said he had "absolutely no knowledge of what was going on with these alleged race-day treatments" until contacted by Racing Victoria chief steward Terry Bailey.

Symons said he felt faint as Bailey outlined some of the explosive text message exchanges which have been exclusively published by the Herald Sun.

Eight people, all with links to Aquanita Racing, have been charged with 271 counts of breaching racing's rules.

Robert Smerdon, Tony Vasil, Stuart Webb, Liam Birchley, Trent Pennuto, Greg Nelligan, Denise Nelligan and Danny Garland have been charged with engaging in "a practice that was dishonest, corrupt or fraudulent, improper or dishonourable" in that they were "party to the administration of alkalinising agents and/or medications to a horse or horses on a race day."

Speaking on RSN, Symons said: "It's rocked racing to the core and it's certainly something - that behaviour from those individuals, if it's proven to be correct - I just find it astounding, disgusting.

Chairman of the Victorian Racing Club Mike Symons. Picture: AAP Images
Chairman of the Victorian Racing Club Mike Symons. Picture: AAP Images

"When Terry Bailey called me, he'd had the first day of interviews with the parties who have now been charged, just to give me the heads up and I felt faint.

"Hearing these allegations of text message exchanges for the first time, it's sickening."

Symons said he and fellow Aquanita directors Peter Howell and David Trussler had cooperated fully with stewards, having been allegedly blindsided by the eight accused.

"I had absolutely no knowledge of what was going on with these alleged race-day treatments," he said.

"That became abundantly clear throughout the inquiry and Brian Kruger made that specific comment yesterday that the Aquanita directors have cooperated in all respects with the inquiry and there is absolutely nothing to suggest that we had any knowledge or awareness of the alleged race-day treatments.

"The question here is around knowledge and awareness of race-day treatment and I had none."

Symons is shattered his champion jumper Black And Bent has been swept up in the doping furore.

According to texts obtained by the Herald Sun, the crack hurdler appears to have received illegal sodium bicarbonate top-ups before winning the 2011 Grand National Hurdle by 12 lengths at Sandown and the 2012 Galleywood Hurdle at Warrnambool.

"What I'm unclear on is the frequency of it," Symons said, referring to the number of times Black And Bent might have been treated.

"Whether it was just an isolated race or races or whether it was common practice throughout the horse's career.

Trainer Robert Smerdon is seen during a trackwork session at Caulfield Racecourse. Picture: Getty Images
Trainer Robert Smerdon is seen during a trackwork session at Caulfield Racecourse. Picture: Getty Images

"That's something I'd ultimately like to get to the bottom of because no-one likes to win races with an advantage.

"He's a champion horse, I've got a painting of him in my study.

"It's diminished his career in some respects to be caught up in these alleged race-day treatments.

"It's unpleasant."

Symons said Smerdon, who faces 116 counts, "has taken probably a back step at the moment, contemplating what he's going to be doing in the forthcoming years."

"I've been friends for Robert for probably the best part of 20 years and I'm just disappointed with what's happened," he said.

"I just can't believe that behaviour - if it's correct - has gone on for so long.

"Clearly, something like this that has such collateral damage on people such as myself but also the other directors who are all in exactly the same boat as me, Peter Howell and David Trussler - no knowledge, no awareness as to what went on.

"It just cuts to the core. You hate reading about yourself in the paper. No-one wants to see their picture in the paper. No-one ever puts a good picture in the paper when you've got stories such as this.

"I've got young kids who read the papers. It's distressing."

Symons said he would not stand down as MRC chairman because he retains the support of the board.

A directions hearing will take place at the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board on Thursday to discuss procedural matters.

It is possible pleas will be entered.

Birchley has indicated he will plead not guilty to three counts.


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