Trainer Robert Smerdon at Caulfield Racecourse. Picture: Getty Images
Trainer Robert Smerdon at Caulfield Racecourse. Picture: Getty Images

Key figures plead no contest, Smerdon reserves plea

GREG and Denise Nelligan, two of the alleged principal figures in the Aquanita doping scandal, will not take part in the inquiry.

The revelation came at a Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board directions hearing into how 271 counts of breaching racing rules stretching back to 2010 would be heard.

Group 1-winning trainer Robert Smerdon has reserved his plea, while co-accused Tony Vasil, Stuart Webb, Liam Birchley, Trent Pennuto and stablehand Danny Garland all indicated through legal representatives they will plead not guilty.

The Nelligan's legal representative Paul O'Sullivan said the couple, who worked for Aquanita Racing until stood down last month, wanted to plead "no contest."

RAD Board chairman Judge John Bowman said the plea was not available in Australia and would be interpreted as a not guilty plea.

Greg Nelligan faces 126 counts under multiple charges. Denise Nelligan has been charged with 13 counts.

Robert Smerdon has reserved his plea. Picture: David Crosling
Robert Smerdon has reserved his plea. Picture: David Crosling

The Aquanita Inquiry stems from Turnbull Stakes Day on October 7, when Greg Nelligan was allegedly caught attempting to administer a sodium bicarbonate "top-up" to Smerdon-trained Lovani.

Some of the 17,000 texts extracted from Greg Nelligan mobile phone and other evidence form the basis of RV's case against the accused eight.

All of them have been charged with engaging "in a practice that was dishonest, corrupt or fraudulent" in that they were "party to the administration of alkalinising agents and/or medications to a horse or horses on race day."

Birchley has indicated he will contest the charges, declaring he will plead not guilty to three counts.

Birchley has been blocked from nominating horses in Victoria and New South Wales.

Vasil has been allowed to continue training after agreeing to RV freezing his training percentages until the case is resolved.

Smerdon, Webb, Denise Nelligan and Garland had already voluntarily stood down from their positions.

Trainer Robert Smerdon at Caulfield Racecourse. Picture: Getty Images
Trainer Robert Smerdon at Caulfield Racecourse. Picture: Getty Images

Patrick Wheelahan, representing Vasil, asked for seven counts against Vasil to be struck out and applied for his client's hearing to be held separate to the others.

Judge Bowman said text messages exclusively published in the Herald Sun would not impact the case despite calls from representatives of the accused to investigate the leaks.

The brief of evidence has now been passed by RV to racing authorities in NSW and Tasmania.

​None of the charged parties appeared at today's hearing.