Racing Victoria (RV) Stewards have today announced that 72 starters implicated in the Aquanita case have been disqualified under Australian Rule of Racing (AR) 234.
The Aquanita case saw licensed trainers Robert Smerdon, Stuart Webb and Tony Vasil and registered stablehands Greg and Denise Nelligan, Trent Pennuto and Daniel Garland, all of whom were employed by Aquanita, each disqualified for improper or dishonourable action(s) or practice(s) in connection with racing.
The Stewards’ decisions follow a show cause process in which the relevant managing owners (or their representatives) of 81 starters were afforded the opportunity to make submissions as to why their horse ought not be disqualified.
The Stewards considered those comprehensive submissions, along with the relevant matters arising out of the decisions of the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board (RAD Board) on 8 May 2018 and/or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on 13 September 2019 and 31 December 2019, before making their final determinations.
In summary, based upon their consideration of the relevant show cause submissions and a review of all relevant material available to them, the Stewards:
- have determined that it is appropriate to exercise their discretionary powers under AR 234 to disqualify 72 starters from the races in question throughout Victoria from 2010 to 2017; and
- did not consider it appropriate to exercise their discretionary powers under AR 234 with respect to nine starters who had been issued with show cause notices on 7 July 2020.
The Stewards determined that it was open to them to exercise their discretionary powers under AR 234 to disqualify those 72 starters because there was the necessary connection between the starter and a finding that an improper or dishonourable action had been committed.
The Stewards determined, with respect to those 72 starters, that it was appropriate to exercise their discretionary powers, taking into account a number of relevant considerations, including whether they could be comfortably satisfied that an administration occurred to the starter in contravention of the Rules of Racing.
The Stewards did not consider it appropriate to exercise their discretionary powers under AR 234 with respect to nine starters:
- where they could not be satisfied that there was the necessary connection between the starter and a finding that an improper or dishonourable action had been committed; or
- where, despite this necessary connection existing, they took into account a number of relevant considerations, including that they could not be comfortably satisfied that an administration occurred to the starter in contravention of the Rules of Racing.
A list of the 72 starters that have been disqualified, together with their relevant race, track and date, is appended to this release. A list of the nine starters that have not been disqualified is also appended to this release.
The managing owner (or their representative) of the 81 starters have been advised today whether their horse was one of the 72 starters that have been disqualified.
Pursuant to AR 274, where a starter is disqualified from a particular race, the placings will be amended, and prizes or money are to be awarded as though the disqualified horse had not started in the race.
As a result, the owners, trainers and jockeys of horses who finished behind the disqualified starter, will be paid by RV the balance of any prizemoney owing based on the amended placings, so long as they are eligible to receive prizemoney.
These payments will total approximately $1.4 million and be made collectively to over 1900 individuals. A provision for costs associated with potential disqualifications has been made in the RV financial accounts since 2018.
The amendment of placings and the payment of the balance of any prizemoney owed based on the amended placings are subject to the expiration of any affected party's appeal rights.
The Repayment of Prizemoney
Following the decision of the Stewards to disqualify 72 starters, the RV Board had to determine whether it would exercise its rights under AR 224 and issue a demand that any prizemoney won and paid to the owner(s), jockey and trainer of a disqualified starter in a race in question be returned to RV.
Having thoroughly considered the matter, the RV Board has determined that it will not exercise its discretionary powers and demand the repayment of prizemoney, except from those persons who were disqualified during the Aquanita case.
Before making its determination, which it considers to be in the best overall interests of Victorian racing, the RV Board gave consideration, among other things, to the following;
- the particular circumstances, including the underlying conduct, in the Aquanita case, which led to the disqualification of the relevant trainers;
- submissions received from the owners during the show cause process regarding their particular circumstances;
- that the right for RV to demand repayment of prizemoney under AR 224 is discretionary;
- the fact that those who were found guilty of wrongdoing were ultimately disqualified and removed from participating within the industry; and
- the scope of the matter as a whole, including the large period of time during which, and since which, the relevant conduct occurred and prizemoney was paid.
RV will issue a demand pursuant to AR 224 to Messrs Smerdon, Webb and Vasil for the repayment of prizemoney earned as trainer in relevant races from which horses trained by them were disqualified.
RV will contact owners of horses promoted as a result of these disqualifications directly with upgraded prizemoney to be paid as soon as is practicable following the expiration of all appeal periods.
Quotes attributable to RV Chief Executive, Giles Thompson
“This was a unique and complex case which required the Stewards to consider significant submissions made to them, and all of the relevant material, in matters which ultimately saw people disqualified for improper practices.
“Having considered all the facts and the numerous and extensive responses to show cause notices, the Stewards determined that 72 starters were the subject of a prohibited administration, and that the appropriate course of action is to disqualify them.
“In accordance with the Rules of Racing, the placings will be amended, and RV will pay the connections of those to be promoted the balance of any monies owing to them, subject to their eligibility to receive such funds and the expiration of any appeal rights.
“The Aquanita case has been a long and challenging chapter where the systematic cheating of a small group of individuals cast a poor light over Victorian racing and the many honest, hard-working people within.
“It is important that we learn from such circumstances and we’ve done that by making changes since 2017 to our raceday surveillance and sampling strategies to stop similar efforts to systematically cheat.
“We’ve also undertaken the Fair Racing For All project, in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, with the objective of improving voluntary compliance to avoid major integrity breaches, and to promote a responsible culture of fair play, ethical behaviours and respect.
“A number of the Fair Racing For All initiatives have and will continue to be rolled out across the industry, such things as compulsory professional development for industry participants and enhanced licensing standards.
“We have a strong focus on preventing similar conduct in the future. Not only because it is against the Rules of Racing and indeed the fairness of competition, but it costs the industry financially and through reputational damage.”
Quotes attributable to RV Chairman, Brian Kruger
“Once the Stewards made the decision to disqualify 72 starters, it was then incumbent on the RV Board to consider whether we would demand the repayment of the prizemoney which had been paid to their connections.
“This was a difficult decision for the Board to make knowing that there were pros and cons with the various options available to it. In making its determination, the Board was ultimately guided by the principle of what is in the best overall interests of Victorian racing and a desire to apply a consistent determination for owners across all disqualified starters.
“The Board considered many factors in making its determination in the best overall interests of Victorian racing. This included the circumstances of the case; the conduct in question; the punishment dealt to the offenders by the Tribunals; the large period of time during which the conduct occurred and prizemoney was paid; and the show cause submissions from owners.
“The RV Board determined not to exercise its discretionary powers and order the repayment of prizemoney with the exception of that won and paid to disqualified trainers Robert Smerdon, Stuart Webb and Tony Vasil who were all found guilty of serious misconduct in the Aquanita case.
“In the end, there were seven persons disqualified for their role in the Aquanita case, three of them for life. Those accused of this serious wrongdoing have been penalised and removed from participating within our industry which is the outcome that all of those who abide by the Rules of Racing deserve.”
Notes to Editors
Following are links to the RAD Board and VCAT decisions in the Aquanita case:
To view a list of the 72 starters which the Stewards have disqualified under AR 234, click here.
To view a list of the nine starters involved in the show cause process which have not been disqualified, click here.
FAQs prepared to assist the owners of horses who have competed against a disqualified Aquanita starter can be found by clicking here.
Please find following the Australian Rules of Racing noted within the release:
AR 234 Disqualification of horse in connection to prohibited practice
A PRA or the Stewards may disqualify a horse entered or run in any race under a fraudulently false description or in connection with which any other improper or dishonourable action or practice referred to in this Part 9 is found to have been committed.
AR 224 Prizes to be repaid/returned following disqualification
In any case where a prize or part of a prize has been paid or awarded to a person who is subsequently found by a PRA or the Stewards not to be entitled to it by reason of the disqualification of that person’s horse or otherwise, that prize must, on demand, be repaid or returned by the recipient to the PRA or Club concerned.
AR 274 Effect of prize otherwise awarded if a horse is disqualified
If a horse is disqualified from a particular race, or for anything occurring in a race, the prize or money (including any proportion the horse’s rider would have been entitled to) is to be awarded as though that horse had not started in the race.
This media release is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Stewards or used in any later consideration of those reasons.