Trainer Ben Smith loses star pair and award after drugs raid suspension

Ben Smith with In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming this year. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
Ben Smith with In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming this year. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

THE career of suspended trainer Ben Smith was in free-fall on Wednesday as his group 1-winning stars were moved to Kris Lees’ stables and the Newcastle Jockey Club chose not to hand out an award he was set to claim.

Everest runner In Her Time and star three-year-old El Dorado Dreaming were officially transferred to Lees’ care on Wednesday after Smith was suspended indefinitely following a raid of his Broadmeadow racecourse operations on Tuesday morning.

The Racing NSW stewards’ search, launched after positive swabs for prohibited substances from two Smith-trained horses, took in the trainer’s stables, home and vehicle and uncovered unlabelled and unregistered bottles of substances which were sent for analysis. Later at an inquiry, he pleaded guilty to giving false evidence during the raid but he entered no plea to a charge of refusing to provide evidence about the persons who supplied the substances.

The inquiry was adjourned and, given the seriousness of the matter, his licence was suspended. His ban starts September 18 but he is not allowed to enter horses in races or trials in the lead-up. Smith applied for a stay of proceedings.

Racing NSW chairman of stewards Marc van Gestel, who led the raid, told RSN on Wednesday he could not name the two horses which returned positives until B samples were confirmed. However, Van Gestel said In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming were not the horses in question.

Asked about the prohibited substances, Van Gestel said he was not in a position yet to provide details. He said the B samples were being “analysed as we speak” but the results would not be announced for a “week or so”.

Ben Smith

Ben Smith

Given his breakthrough group 1 wins with In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming last season, Smith was set to win the Achiever Award at the NJC’s spring carnival launch and annual presentation on Wednesday night.

NJC chief Matt Benson, though, said the honour would not be awarded given the seriousness of the matter outlined in the Racing NSW press release on Tuesday. 

However, Benson indicated Smith may receive the award later if cleared of wrongdoing.

“You’ve got to give him the presumption of innocence and if he is innocent, he has every right to receive the award,” Benson said.

“But I think it would be inappropriate for the club to be going down that path until the matter is decided one way or the other.”

Smith is allowed to continue working his team until the suspension starts next week.

In Her Time owner Peter Brown told Sky Sports Radio that Smith was “taking it pretty hard”.

“These are very hard times for him,” Brown said.

“But we all saw him this morning and he seemed pretty good under the circumstances and he’s getting on with what he has to do. 

“He worked all the horses this morning and we’re just all going to stay pretty close to him to make sure he gets through this stuff as best he can.”

“I feel for the staff and Ben, and it’s a bit of tricky one, and not very good timing at all really.”

A decision had not come from the Racing NSW Appeals Board late on Wednesday in regards to Smith’s stay of proceedings application.

The case revived memories of a raid of then-leading Newcastle trainer, Darren Smith, in 2014. 

Smith, no relation to Ben Smith, was found guilty on 42 cobalt-related charges and given a 15-year suspension.

All horses from the Ben Smith stables were swabbed on Tuesday. 

The Smith-trained Iron Duke was nominated for Friday’s group 3 Newcastle Cup and it was set to be the only locally-trained hope. 

However, it was unable to accept for the race given the ban on the trainer. 

Iron Duke was to make the jump from class one level after four- and five-length victory at Newcastle at his past two starts.

The transfer of In Her Time and El Dorado Dreaming to Lees on Wednesday ensured their preparations will continue.

In Her Time will have an exhibition gallop between races two and three at Newcastle on Friday, while El Dorado Dreaming will resume in the group 2 Tea Rose Stakes (1400m) at Randwick on Saturday. Lees also has Miss Fabulass in the race.

Meanwhile, Lees was honoured as the Newcastle premiership winner on Wednesday night with 31 victories at the track last season.

Mitchell Bell was leading jockey with 19 ½ wins and Rachel Hunt the top apprentice with eight. 

Peter and Paul Snowden claimed the Max Lees Medal for the best training strike-rate at Newcastle of 3.32, from 22 wins in 73 starters. 

Koby Jennings took home the Bill Wade Medal for jockeys with 15 wins from 51 rides at Newcastle and a strike-rate of 3.4.

Brett Partelle won the Cessnock trainers’ premiership with three wins, local legend Robert Thompson claimed the jockeys’ title with 10 and Chloe Baker the apprentices’ with five victories.