Chief steward Ray Murrihy told TVN he questioned Smith on Thursday after an unannounced inspection of the trainer’s stable uncovered evidence of the administration of cobalt to horses.
Murrihy said urine samples taken from a number of Smith’s horses had revealed high cobalt readings, leaving stewards with the job of retesting previous samples to determine the depth of the state’s first thoroughbred case involving the substance.
“There has been some preliminary reports involving cobalt being found in samples,” Murrihy said.
“It’s at a very early stage of the inquiry. We need to have the samples confirmed.”
Murrihy said stewards withdrew Smith’s horses to “ensure the integrity of the races going forward is 100 per cent”.
Harness Racing NSW has suspended a number of trainers for lengthy periods for producing horses on tracks with elevated cobalt readings in 2014.
US vets have expressed concern elevated levels of cobalt could cause heart, nerve or thyroid problems for horses.
Smith has attracted the attention of stewards on eight previous occasions for treatment-related offences.
He served an 18-month penalty for using trenbolone implants in 1999.
Drug dealers targeting WA jails have made hundreds of thousands of dollars using bogus TAB betting accounts to launder their profits and pay smugglers, which may include prison officers.
Former Greenough prison worker Jeanine Wyllie is now an inmate. Picture: Simon Santi/The West Australian
The scheme was uncovered by Operation Ulysses – a police task force set up last year to investigate organised crime links to the prison system.
A report by the task force has recommended the re-establishment of a police prisons unit after finding WA jails were awash with drugs.
More than 100 charges have been laid against more than 40 people as a result of the police operation that involved detectives going undercover as prison officers with the approval of Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis.
The West Australian understands that the task force has also exposed a criminal network that supplies prisoners with the same prescription drugs distributed to heroin addicts by the WA Health Department.
Administered under the tongue, the opioid strips are easily smuggled in to prisoners willing to pay up to $500 a strip.
Registered addicts sell the strips to prison dealers for as little as $35.
Operation Ulysses has warned the Health Department that it is partly to blame for the drug-trafficking racket because not enough is being done to monitor the medication, especially after urine samples taken from prisoners showed a surge in the amounts of the opioid drugs – known as buprenorphine – being detected.
The task force worked with the TAB to find betting accounts being used to pay people who smuggle in the drugs by transferring money to them.
Among those charged by the task force was a Department of Corrective Services employee who smuggled cannabis and a mobile phone to a jailed bikie while she worked as a chef instructor at Greenough prison near Geraldton. The woman was jailed on Thursday for 18 months.
At least two prison officers investigated over links to drug dealing have so far escaped charges.
One had his house raided but nothing incriminating was found. He later resigned from the department.
Another prison guard, who showed up at a drug dealer’s house in his uniform shortly after the dealer had been arrested by police, remains in his job.
A copy of the Operation Ulysses report has been sent to Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan for review.
Michael Walker was today served papers notifying him that he has been charged with a serious racing offence deemed “detrimental to racing” following comments he made on the television show Off the Rails three days after riding Puccini to victory in the New Zealand Derby.
Walker had gone into Derby day off a two-week layoff with a shoulder injury that was aggravated in his race five win on Rough Copy. Earlier in the programme he had stood down after being unable to make a 54.5kg weight and after riding Rough Copy at 57.5kg and Gold ’N Mac at the same weight in the next race, he relinquished the mount on Manny in the race before the Derby, telling stewards that he could not make that horse’s 55.5kg.
At the same time, Walker had undergone therapy from raceday doctor Margaret Parle after his difficult ride on Rough Copy, which had caused muscle spasms in his upper back. After recovering for an inspired ride to victory on Puccini in the Derby, Walker forfeited his 55.5kg mount in the remaining race on the programme.
Three days later Walker was a guest on the one-off Australian Sky TV programme broadcast from Ellerslie racecourse and fronted by Greg Radley and former jockey Malcolm “Miracle” Johnston. Questioned about the injury he suffered leading up to the Derby, Walker stated the following: “It was the most painful thing I’ve been though in my life. I feel for females that go through labour.
“It was like three or four races later the doctor asked the stewards if I could stand down from my next ride and take a couple of rides off. The stewards said no, if he gets off that he has to get off everything.
“I wasn’t let that happening, so maybe me being a little bit smart as yourself Miracle, I just said I can’t make the weight on the next one. So I was able to take a couple of races off and pull myself together for the Derby.”
The Racing Integrity Unit has reacted to Walker’s comments by bringing a charge under the serious racing offence criteria, in this case Rule 801 s) (ii), which states: ‘A person commits a Serious Racing Offence within the meaning of these Rules who at any time writes or causes to be written, publishes or causes to be published, or utters or causes to be uttered, any insulting or abusive words with reference to a Tribunal, NZTR, Committee of a Club or a member or Official of any such body or a Stipendiary Steward or Investigator, or Registered Medical Practitioner’.
The charge carries penalties ranging from lifetime disqualification, up to 12 months’ suspension or a fine up to $50,000.
“Michael Walker was served the papers by email and courier today,” said Racing Integrity Unit co-chief steward Ross Neal. “Stewards have serious concerns about comments made by him in the Off the Rails broadcast.”
With the papers having been served, it is now up to the Judicial Control Authority to set a date to hear the charge. Amongst those anxious to see a resolution is senior co- trainer Peter McKay, who is keen for Walker to continue an association with Puccini that has already produced a perfect three from three result in the Waikato and Avondale Guineas and New Zealand Derby.
- STEPHEN DRILL
- HERALD SUN
- FEBRUARY 05, 2014 5:24PM
A COCAINE kingpin who purchased horses from disgraced racing identity Bill Vlahos has been charged for making false statements to Racing Victoria stewards.
Joe Zaiter, who was friends with Vlahos, will face two charges for breaching the rules of racing.
Racing Victoria said in a statement this afternoon that Zaiter had failed to declare a criminal conviction.
“Under the Fitness and Propriety Section of the Horse Registration or Transfer of Ownership Forms, all individuals are required to notify the relevant Principal Racing Authority if they have been convicted of … any offence involving violence against a person or dishonest or criminal activity in the past 10 years,” the statement said.
The charges came out of Racing Victoria’s investigation into Vlahos’ failed racehorse company BC3 Thoroughbreds.
Zaiter was convicted in 2008 of his part in a $30 million cocaine importation.
He spent 15 months in jail.
Racing Victoria records reveal that Zaiter owned four horses that were syndicated through BC3 Thoroughbreds.
Melbourne and Caulfield Cup runner Sanagas was the best of the horses – but it only performed before it was purchased by Vlahos’ syndicate.
Zaiter also owned a share in Khalifa, a five year old gelding that has won $112,425, True Tussock, which has won $16,105 from seven starts and Present Glow, which has won $5,300 from five starts.
Zaiter told the Herald Sun that only Sanagas, which ran in Warrnambool on January 5, was still in his name.
He confirmed that he had been investigated by Racing Victoria officials and admitted that he did not declare his conviction.
Racing Victoria said in a statement that Zaiter had owned another two horses between 2010 and 2013.
Joe Zaiter has been fined $3500 for failing to declare a criminal conviction under the terms of racehorse ownership.
Zaiter, who did not appear at Thursday’s hearing before Racing Victoria’s Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board, pleaded guilty to two charges through his legal representative.
RV uncovered his deception as part of their investigation into the collapsed BC3 Thoroughbreds.
Zaiter was convicted of cocaine importation in 2006 and sentenced to 12 months jail.
He has until the end of July to pay the fine.
aap March 13, 2014, 12:12 pm
- RITA PANAHI
- HERALD SUN
- MARCH 06, 2014 11:00PM
EXCLUSIVE: AN emotional Bill Vlahos has declared he is not a conman in his first interview since the collapse of his multimillion-dollar punting club.
The mastermind of The Edge gambling syndicate said: “I haven’t robbed or conned anybody. Absolutely not.”
In an exclusive interview with the Herald Sun Mr Vlahos said threats, hired heavies and punters who lost money have pushed him into hiding.
And he is preparing himself for the possibility of prison.
“In conversation with my wife and my family and lawyer everything is on the table,” Mr Vlahos said.
“I may not be qualified right now, but I am a psychologist, so I’m pretty attuned in terms of making sure the kids are well looked after and that we are making decisions about the future with everything on the table.”
Mr Vlahos’s punting club owes creditors at least $144 million. But investors claim unpaid winnings total more than $500 million.
Mr Vlahos became emotional when asked where he thought he’d be in three years.
“In three years I hope that every single person who has lost money has got it back,” Mr Vlahos said, shedding tears.
“I think I’m a bit emotional because I became a psychologist for a reason,” he said.
“And it was about people having a certain lifestyle …”
Mr Vlahos, whose passport has been confiscated, also vowed not to flee despite several investigations.
“Hopefully there is no music to face because our investigations will find what we need to and it’s hunky dory.
“But as I’ve said, I’ve come back from overseas when I was halfway across the world and we’ve stayed in this jurisdiction. We’re staying here. I am meeting my obligations.”
Mr Vlahos said he is constrained by legal advice from detailing what he believes happened to the punting fortune.
But he insists the mysterious Daniel Maxwell he has previously blamed at court for his woes is not a figment of his imagination.
“I know I haven’t taken anyone’s money, I know that I haven’t siphoned money anywhere. The whole time I thought the money was still there, and we were going to wind it up.”
Asked if there was any money left, he said he could not answer that until the trustees and administrators had finished their work.
He also denied he was behind the firebombing of his ute, containing a laptop and documents, at his Connewarre property near Geelong.
“We had about $20,000 worth of uninsured jewellery that went, it had all my kids clothes, all my clothes.. I packed everything into the ute, kids cricket bags, toys.
“It was everything we owned. And that’s why we had to go to the school to get clothes for the kids out of lost property because my accounts were frozen as well.”
Mr Vlahos’s collapsed racing company BC3 Thoroughbreds was the highest bidder, at $5 million, for the half-brother of Black Caviar, Jimmy, who died suddenly after contracting laminitis last year.
“Not to pooh-pooh Racing Victoria because they have a job to do but, having seen the brief, anything to do with Jimmy I just don’t understand how that’s got to do with me,” Mr Vlahos said.
He denied he had a gambling addiction, stating: “No, I only gamble when I can win.
“I am not allowed to have a punt anymore. I’ve been banned, I’m not allowed to enter a sweepstakes or have a bet.”
In response to reports he was bankrolling parties with two Melbourne strippers while the punters’ club collapsed, he said he had “limited contact with the girls since April and any contact I’ve had my wife has been aware of”.
Mr Vlahos denies he paid the girls any money to accompany him to Dubai and that he only paid for their airfares and accommodation.
“The girls were interested in the (racing) industry as well,” he said.
Mr Vlahos said suggestions his wife, Joanne, may have been involved in the scheme were “rubbish”.
“I do know I haven’t conned or robbed anyone,” Mr Vlahos said.
When it was suggested a court could find otherwise Mr Vlahos replied: “I know I haven’t, the court may find that I have.”
It is understood Mr Vlahos has not given a formal interview to police and his lawyer has been handling inquiries from the force.
“I think what is going to come out of this is: This guy is a f**king idiot. He did all this and didn’t make money,” Mr Vlahos said.
“I haven’t robbed or conned anybody, absolutely not.”
He said he had concerns for the safety of his wife Joanne and his two primary age children.
“I accept that people have lost money. There are a lot of people that have made a heap of money as well not putting their hands up and are not being seen to be part of the story. In fact more people made money than lost money.
“But at the same time I wouldn’t want to portray myself as a martyr or as a victim despite the fact that there’s some serious fears for me and my family at the moment.”
“The funds that I’m accessing are funds that we’re borrowing from family … Joanne is one of a number of children in her family. All the siblings are helping. So that’s where we are day to day … I haven’t got a stash of money,” he said.
“I know what it’s like not to have money now because that’s the situation of my family”
|THE BIG QUESTIONS|
Q: How did we get here?
A: “From my perspective it’s as much as shock as for anyone else. I don’t have any more intimate knowledge about how we got here than anyone else other than that I feel like I’ve lost money as well and I’m trying to find the answers.”
Q: What is your message for the people who lost?
A:“I don’t know if I’ve got a message at the moment because I’m not sure of all the facts yet and what’s happened and whether the money is there and who’s responsible.”
Q:Are you going to hang around to face the music?
A:“Absolutely, hopefully there is no music to face because our investigations find what we need to and its honky dory but as I’ve said I’ve come back from overseas when I was halfway across the world and we’ve stayed in this jurisdiction.”
Q: Worse case scenario, have you started preparing yourself for serving a jail term?
A: “I worry about that (jail), I worry about staying alive, I worry about finding Daniel, I worry about kids, I worry about my family staying together, I worry about paying my lawyer, I worry about a lot of things…the worst case scenario doesn’t occupy my thoughts more than those.”
Q: Has there been any close calls with thugs you’re hiding from?
A: “(On one incident) My wife was there so that was a pretty scary moment, and I wasn’t. They threatened her and this is why we decided that we were going to pack up the farmhouse and move all our stuff out when I ran into the people that were there. And they’ve been around to our residence and kicked the front door in.”
Q: What do you say to people who say Daniel Maxwell is not real?
A: This has become such a circus that people have gone into hiding. There are a lot of people that are comfortable for me to be in the hot seat. But there will be people that will meet Daniel soon and other people that would indicate that they’ve met Daniel.
Q: How did you meet Maxwell?
A: Can’t talk about it.
WA horse racing’s man of the moment, jockey Shaun O’Donnell, is high on life.
But it was a more sinister drug of choice, methamphetamines, that once pushed him down to the point of purgatory.
As the gun hoop prepares today to guide his “old mate” Luckygray to a fourth Group 1 win when he starts a clear favourite in the $500,000 Tabtouch Kingston Town Classic (1800m) at Ascot, he has also detailed his grim fight with drug addiction that once all but ruined his life.
His turnaround is an inspirational tale that he hopes others will heed when they sit on the verge of bad choices.
“I could be in the gutter still, that’s where I was heading,” a candid O’Donnell told The Weekend West.
“It got that bad I was going to have no family. Mum and dad were going to disown me, I was all alone and it was my own fault.
“I don’t know why I got depressed at the time, but like a lot of people do, they go out and ‘the drugs help ya’.
“I remember sitting there one day, (wife) Alex and I having a big chat about it all. She said: ‘We’re going, that’s it’. I felt something just literally snap in my brain. Bang, that was it. Cold turkey, no more.”
That was the end to a daily drug habit that spiralled out of control in a period of the established turf star’s life when his close friend Jason Oliver was killed in a 2002 riding fall and he was banned for a positive sample after a drug test on Kalgoorlie Cup day in 2001.
The nine-month penalty kicked in on the day his third child was born, with Alex lying in hospital oblivious to the depth of her husband’s problems.
“I sat in the car park for about two hours, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” O’Donnell recalled about trying to build up the courage to tell his wife of their plight.
“I had no money and pawned my wedding ring. I just pawned a lot of things. My kids’ PlayStation … I thought ‘they don’t need it, do they’. Of course they did, and I took it for myself.
“I hated myself and I always used to listen to a song Robbie Williams sung, I want to be a better man. But I couldn’t snap out of it.
“I reckon I got big-headed after all that success early. I wasn’t going to the track and obviously you start losing rides and then you start hating everyone because they’re not putting you on. We moved away to Kal and I got worse and worse.
“Then I was introduced to it (drugs) and I thought I’d try it. It made me feel good, like it does, and it just got more often and often.”
Pivotal, then, to O’Donnell’s rehabilitation was the confronting message from Alex, a former jockey, that she and their three children were leaving home.
She had suspected he was still visiting his drug supplier and had had enough. He stormed out of the house and over the back fence to an adjoining park where a night of deep thought finally forced him to restructure his life’s priorities for the better.
“I bolted like a horse over the fence because I could,” O’Donnell said.
“I sat in the park all night just thinking. It was freezing cold, but I just thought, ‘I can’t go home until I’m ready’. It wasn’t good, we had three children and she’s home looking after them while I’m out playing up and not with it.
“She’s a strong girl, very tough and you’ve got to have that behind you. She’s been in racing and rode in races so she knows exactly what happens. She’s been a great mother and a great wife. She could have bolted, but I think she threw it at me to say: ‘This is your last chance’.”
O’Donnell used his suspension to reconnect with life’s basics, working in a car yard owned by his father-in-law and at a Jandakot bottling plant for $300 a week. He called it his “healing process”.
Having turned 43 in October, he now sees no imminent end to his riding career. He is not embarrassed by the sordid parts of his past and even this week spoke to WA Racing’s apprentices’ school, offering his open door to any young rider feeling the strain.
“It sounds strange, but I love it because it made me who I am today,” O’Donnell said of his drugs ordeal.
“Not being big-headed or anything, but I can ride and I’ve got a talent. I love people loving me and I love to know that people respect me like I respect them. I’ve earned a lot of respect being back.
“I love life and I love riding. I just love waking up every day and coming home from the races. I feel great, I’m fit and healthy and I’m still getting the rides … the phone still rings.
“But if you’re feeling emotionally down, you need to talk to someone, your family or even if they want to come to me – it’s not a problem. I’ve always said I’m willing to tell my story if they need help and to give them guidance. Now it’s good because we’ve got people you can go and talk to through the jockeys’ association.”
O’Donnell’s son Shaun Jr, who turned 17 on Thursday, is now apprenticed to Bunbury trainer and former jockey Raquel Mills and is likely to start riding in trials early next year.
The move has turned back the clock to memories of his own start in the industry, which put an end to his dreams of becoming an elite footballer.
Staying on a runaway horse through the beach dunes of Kalbarri on his first ride during a family holiday exposed a raw talent too natural to ignore.
A horse named Aegean Gold later gave O’Donnell an early snapshot of the racing industry rollercoaster. The mare delivered him his first victory when they combined to win a Moora maiden in 1987, but the next time he rode her at Pinjarra, they fell. She never raced again and he was left with plenty of pain and sadness.
“It was pretty average, but I got up and went back to work a couple of weeks later,” he said.
“You never forget your first winner and I don’t think I rode a winner for another 50 rides. It’s a great leveller, this racing.”
O’Donnell admitted to feeling plenty of redemption in his latest Railway Stakes triumph a fortnight ago aboard Luckygray, not only to silence the doubters after the pair won the 2011 edition via a protest, but also because injury to Kasabian on the eve of the 2009 race robbed the favourite of the chance to run.
Luckygray’s giant-killing run has not only helped put O’Donnell’s life back on track, it also allowed him to reward Alex for her patience with their dream Bullsbrook property.
They named their ranch after former galloper He’s Hercules, who O’Donnell rode to victory three times in 1994, before his wife had success with the gelding in eventing. The horse’s boxed ashes are the centrepiece of a shrine in their lounge room.
“Unfortunately, he had a paddock accident and passed away so we got him cremated and he’s living in this box right here with us in our home,” O’Donnell said.
“We couldn’t bear to part with him, there’s a special place for him in our heart. I knew him as a yearling, rode him as a two and three-year-old and won races on him. He was with us for 15 years and all the kids could jump on his back and stand on him. He was just one of those horses that didn’t care, he just loved people.
“Our place is named in honour of him … but it’s sponsored by Luckygray.”
O’Donnell’s mate and fellow jockey, Lucas Camilleri, rode Luckygray to victory in his first three race starts. But when Camilleri moved to Melbourne, O’Donnell got the call and responded with wins in his first four rides on the gelding, culminating in the 2011 Railway Stakes. There were three more consecutive Group 3 wins in his next campaign and a Kingston Town Classic victory sandwiched between two failed Melbourne stints.
But his “freak” of a run to win his second Railway a fortnight ago sealed a relationship for life between horse and rider.
“No one can take that away from me, it’s like we’re in this bubble, me and him. It doesn’t matter who else is around, we’ve done it,” O’Donnell said.
“It’s hard for someone like you, or people who don’t ride in races or who have never won a Group 1. This kind of feeling just comes from in you and they just take you to this place.
“It’s just wonderful and to be on one of your best horses you’ve ever ridden … he’s a mate of mine, I relate to him.
“When he’s on song, this bloke, which he nearly always is, he’s just a powerhouse. He’s always in rhythm, he just wants to win.
“He means a lot to me and a lot to the family. As a sportsman, you just want to be at the top of your game and when you’ve got a horse that can be at the top of his game at Group 1 level wherever you race, it’s just a fantastic bond.
“A lot of people go through their career without reaching these heights. It’s an honour.”
O’Donnell described the hand-sign “L” fans were now making with their thumb and forefinger as he returned to scale victorious as “that something special the horse deserves”.
So life is now good on the Bullsbrook property which has become something of a menagerie with former galloper and now eventing horse Alsarosh, a chihuahua called Stuart, towering great danes Emily and Lucy and a pair of cats known as Connie and Chairman Meow.
“It’s like ‘Shaun O’Donnell had a farm – E-I-E-I-O’,” he laughs.
The West Australian
STEVE BUTLER The West AustralianDecember 7, 2013, 2:50 am