By Hans Ebert

Aquanita – Australia racing’s biggest scandal

They’ve been dubbed The Aquanita Eight by the good folks at racing.comradeski. Call them what you will, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the case against leading trainers Robert Smerdon, Tony Vasil, Liam Birchley and their partners in crime is the latest and most brutal body blow to the image of Australian racing. That’s the good news.

Revealing the dark side of horse racing is the easy part. Gawd knows it’s been going on long enough, especially South of the border in Australia with no signs of this beast of burden being tamed and with the state’s purported leaders all too familiar with announcing one disaster after another to say anything of substance. Wha, for example, does the very handsomely paid Racing Minister have to say about all this- and everything that’s come before?

Guess time will tell when meaningless corporate waffle will be served on a hot plate to Michael Felgate with all the trimmings. RVL CEO Giles Thompson says the the ruling on this case sends a “strong signal to those who think they can undermine the integrity of racing”. Wow. How many “strong signals” have there been, Giles?

Giles Thompson is a lightweight- a nice enough guy to have dinner with, but a soufflé who’s clueless about how the past affects the present and what to do about the future. And he’s CEO.

So this disaster sends a “strong signal”. And then what, Giles? What happened to Textgate? Supposed drive-by shootings that disappeared into an X Files case? Cobaltgate? The corporate musical chairs played to protect the guilty? The golden parachutes opened for the privileged few? The role of Sal Perna? The regular nightmares that continue to be reality?

The list of dramas “streamed” from RVL is worse than everything that’s going on in the life of the Kardashians away from the cameras.

What has one thinking is why it’s taken this long to get to the bottom of things so disgustingly vile? Truth be known, much of this has been an open secret for close to two decades. It even goes back to the early days of racing in Macau and innocents to racing who bought expensive horses from at least one of these characters and hearing Jockey Speak for the first time about “jiggers” and “top ups” and payment for services rendered.

Reading the following brought up lunch and a number of bad memories: “Aquanita float driver Greg Nelligan was ‘literally caught red-handed’ inserting a syringe in Robert Smerdon-trained Lovan’s mouth on Turnbull Stakes Day last October”.

How much more is there to this story that makes Keyser Soze and the Usual Suspects seem like Noddy and Big Ears In Toyland? How much further back does it go? Two decades? Three? And why has it only been revealed now?

This isn’t just about eight individuals who allowed Mother Greed to take over and ensure that the winning results went their way. It’s opened up a Pandora’s box of sex, lies and videotapes involving many others, no longer necessarily in Australia or in racing, plus an extremely flawed system to do with enforcing the integrity and security of the sport.

Who’s left holding the bag knowing they’ve been duped more than once and thinking Tinkerbelle will drop fairy dust over the bogeymen and make everything bad disappear? The racing fans- and Australia has the most passionate and loyal and proud racing fans- who are the backbone to the success and popularity of the sport. It’s a poor reward for trust and loyalty.

Much more will certainly come out of this case against “The Aquanita Eight” in dribs and drabs with undoubtedly other characters named as the noose tightens and it’s everyone for themselves. And then what?

Where, and with whom does the buck stop and, most importantly, what can be done to ensure this and all the other evils that have been quietly swept under the Made In Brennan carpet never happen again? That the global image of horse racing is not tarnished by the same brush? What are the guarantees? Screw sending out more “strong signals”. “Strong signals” are more often than not only smokescreens for the fire raging against the machine.

Of course, horse racing in Australia must continue with a Business As Usual attitude and some degree of positivity. But it’s something that’s going to be tough to do with such a bad taste lingering in one’s mouth.

Fighting an invisible enemy alone because the barbarians at the gates of hell are unable to quell this onslaught of more and more crooked little men surfacing regularly with their crooked little plans and working like good little Oompah Loompahs for their Willy Wonkas cannot continue much longer. Something has to give. Heads must roll. Incompetence cannot be tolerated. Racing’s bogeymen must die.

#horseracing #Aquanita #RobertSmerdon #TonyVasil #LiamBirchely #RVL #GilesThompson

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