Smerdon Wants Aquanita Life Ban, Fine Cut

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Robert Smerdon

Robert Smerdon wants to avoid a lifetime ban and hefty fine over the ‘Aquanita eight’ cheating scandal, despite not planning to return to training.

Smerdon and fellow trainers Stuart Webb and Tony Vasil want their disqualifications shortened after being found guilty of a reduced number of charges on appeal.

Racing Victoria argues Smerdon’s life ban and $90,000 fine over one of the biggest scandals in Australian racing should stand.

The multiple Group One-winning trainer’s lawyer Tim McHenry on Friday asked for a six-to-eight year disqualification and no fine, adding if one was imposed it should be $10,000 to $20,000.

McHenry said the disqualification involved a lot more than preventing Smerdon training horses.

Smerdon was happy to give an undertaking that he would not apply for any training licence, he said.

McHenry said Smerdon, through his own fault, had already suffered a very substantial penalty when his training operation closed and a fine on top of that would be manifestly excessive.

“He lost his incredibly successful training business,” McHenry told the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Smerdon earns a net $1000 a week as a private driver and a “modest additional amount”, after car lease payments, by driving an Uber on weekends.

McHenry said Smerdon gifted “some savings” to his partner when she bought a $1.38 million home last year, after selling her own property, but neither otherwise had any assets of significance.

RV barrister Jeff Gleeson QC questioned whether Smerdon, a one-time “giant of the industry”, was involved in a company that owned land which could be worth millions of dollars “for all we know”.

Gleeson said information about Smerdon’s superannuation was also not revealed when it was relevant to know if in the next year or two he could access millions of dollars.

He also questioned how much the multiple Group One-winning trainer’s business benefited from the cheating.

“It rings rather hollow so say ‘I’ve lost my incredibly successful training business’ when the evidence reveals that over many years it was at least supported by cheating,” Gleeson said.

VCAT found Smerdon guilty of 78 corrupt conduct charges (originally 115), Vasil of two breaches (down from seven) and Webb of one instead of three.

Webb wants his four-year ban cut to 12-18 months while Vasil, originally outed for three years, wants a suspended sanction.

Gleeson said the Aquanita “top-ups conspiracy” dealt a significant blow to the public’s confidence in the racing industry and the disqualifications should not be reduced.

“(There is) still no remorse, no apology, still not a word of acceptance by or on behalf of these men that they’ve done wrong and they’ve damaged the industry that previously embraced them,” he said.

Eight people associated with thoroughbred management company Aquanita Racing were disqualified over the conspiracy to cheat in more than 100 races over seven years, using top-ups of sodium bicarbonate and Tripart paste.

No date has been given for the decision on the three trainers’ new penalties.

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