THE career of group 1-winning trainer Ben Smith, the Cinderella man of Newcastle racing, appears over after a dramatic raid on his Broadmeadow racecourse stables on Tuesday morning.
Smith, who was set to win the Newcastle Jockey Club’s Achiever of the Year award on Wednesday night, was charged and suspended indefinitely at an inquiry started after the search. The raid was launched after Racing NSW stewards received advice of two sample irregularities from Smith-trained horses. They then uncovered “a number of unlabelled and/or unregistered and/or unidentifiable substances” which “were seized by the stewards and investigators obtained from Smith’s stables, vehicle and residence”. His mobile telephone and laptop computer were confiscated for forensic imaging.
Smith pleaded guilty to twice giving false evidence to stewards during the raid. He was also charged with refusing to provide evidence about the persons who supplied the seized substances, which were sent for analysis.
The inquiry was adjourned but Smith was suspended from September 18. However, he is not allowed to nominate, accept or start a horse in a race or trial over the next seven days. Stewards ruled that “continued participation of Smith did pose an unacceptable risk to, and prejudice or undermine the image, interests and integrity of the racing industry”.
The Herald was told Smith was allowed to continue working his horses until September 18 but then had to move them on.
Sky Sports Radio reported that Smith was seeking a stay of proceedings in order to continue training until the next hearing.
The dramatic events came after a breakout season for Smith in which he trained In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming to maiden group 1 wins in The Galaxy and Sires’ Produce Stakes respectively. The victories were a fairytale rise for the former Scone horseman, who caught pneumonia from cold showers when he forego hot water to save money in his early days as a trainer.
In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming are certainties to claim the NJC’s horse and two-year-old of the year gongs. Smith was expected to be Achiever of the Year.
The events also cast a cloud over the NJC’s flagship Newcastle Cup meeting this Friday. The Smith-trained Iron Duke was the only locally-trained Cup nomination.
NJC chief Matt Benson said “it’s obviously not something you would want to happen in the week of your cup”.
“That’s not suggesting the investigation will go one or the other, but stewards are doing their job,” Benson said. “They can’t change their activities on the basis of what might or might not be happening at the Newcastle Jockey Club this week.”
As for the club’s awards function, Benson said the Smith-trained contenders “will still be eligible for winning those awards, there’s no reason for them not to be.”
Asked if Smith himself could still be awarded, Benson said: “I’ll have that discussion probably with the chairman tomorrow, but at this stage, the awards will roll along and who’s been selected, or the horses selected, won’t be changed.”
The shock news also came as Smith was preparing In Her Time to have an exhibition gallop between races on Friday as part of preparations for the $13 million The Everest. That gallop has now been cancelled. El Dorado Dreaming was to resume in the group 2 Tea Rose Stakes at Randwick on Saturday but her immediate future is also under a cloud.
In Her Time had secured the TAB slot in The Everest and Newcastle-based owner Peter Brown was working to maintain the deal. Sky Sports Radio reported In Her Time had undergone blood tests on Tuesday afternoon.
“We are monitoring the issue. TAB’s Everest arrangements are with In Her Time’s owner, Peter Brown,” a TAB spokesman told Fairfax Media. “We respect the rules of racing. Integrity is paramount for us and we will liaise with Peter on the next steps.”
Brown told Fairfax Media he didn’t want to comment until the facts in the case became clear. Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'landys told Fairfax Media Smith would be given due process in the inquiry and it had no effect on the image of The Everest.
Smith will face further charges if the tests which prompted the raid have positive B-samples. There was no indication given on Tuesday about what was found in the irregular samples.
The initial charges laid could carry a penalty of disqualification.
Smith did not reply to calls from the Newcastle Herald.
Meanwhile, the NJC will have at least two new board members after next month’s elections.
The club confirmed to members on Tuesday that only two of the four sitting elected directors would be seeking re-election. Nominations for potential new directors close Friday at 4pm. The process to decide the three Racing NSW-appointed directors will start after the member-elected positions are determined.
The Herald understands former vice-chairman Bill Moncrieff has resigned as an elected director after 13 years and will finish up at the end of this month. It also believes Mike Hadaway did not seek re-nomination when that deadline closed last Friday.
The NJC is required to have three or four elected directors on its board. Robert Dan and chairman Geoff Barnett are seeking re-election. The appointed directors are Brian Judd, Paul Leming and Richard Sonnichsen.