Stewart free to race after appeal to VRT quashes disqualification

Trainer Emma Stewart has been fined $12,000 but escaped disqualification after the Victorian Racing Tribunal heard her appeals today.

RSN Harness Racing
RSN Harness Racing Picture: RSN

Harness Racing Victoria stewards disqualified Stewart in December for six months after she plead guilty to administering an injection to Act Now and attempting to administer an injection to Show Me Heaven a day before their September 17 races, an offence under the rules of racing.

Stewart plead guilty but appealed the severity of the sentence, which was today successful with the tribunal's panel of three, chaired by Judge John Bowman, waiving the disqualification and instituting a fine.

In his sentencing, Judge Bowman acknowledged Stewart's guilty plea, good record, cooperation with stewards and that there was no suggestion of any illegal substances, but rather treatment was for hydration.

Judge Bowman said, as a result, the panel did not believe a period of disqualification was appropriate, but instead was imposing the financial penalty of $5000 for each charge.

"We appreciate this is a substantial amount for the administration of a substance that has no affect on performance," Judge Bowman said.

Stewart was fined a further $2000 for failure to thoroughly maintain a log book, which Judge Bowman upheld, increasing the total penalty to $12,000.

Harness Racing Victoria General Manager of Integrity Rhys Harrison said HRV "acknowledged and accepted the tribunal's decision".

"HRV stewards take the opportunity to emphasise the importance of participants remaining vigilant in their comprehension and adherence to the rules," Harrison said.

"HRV remains committed to upholding the rules and addressing any instances of non-compliance."

The hearing concludes a significant HRV prosecution, which was delayed by an attempt to halt the transfer of horses from Stewart to partner Clayton Tonkin.

The following is a sequence of events to the present day:

September 16, 2023:

HRV stewards withdrew Show Me Heaven and Act Now from their respective engagements in Race 3 and Race 7 at Maryborough the following day in accordance with the provisions of Australian Harness Racing Rule (AHRR) 196B (3). The scratchings relate to a stable inspection at Stewart's stables, where an intravenous drip was being administered or attempted to be administered to the aforementioned horses within one clear day of them racing. That was in contravention to the rules of racing. Following the inspection, HRV's integrity department investigated the alleged offences. 

December 5, 2023:

HRV stewards concluded an inquiry after hearing evidence and submissions from Stewart, issuing three charges under AHRR, including administering and attempting to administer an injection to a horse by intravenous drip. Stewards issued two six-month disqualifications to be served concurrently. A further $2000 fine was issued for failure to maintain a log book.

December 6, 2023:

Stewart issued an appeal to the penalty with the Victorian Racing Tribunal.

December 8, 2023:

Stewart applied to the VRT for a stay in proceedings, which HRV opposed. The VRT approved the stay.

December 8 & 9, 2023:

Stewart lodged stable returns with HRV seeking to transfer 21 horses she was training to trainer Clayton Tonkin.

December 20, 2023:

HRV Stewards rejected the stable returns pursuant to Australian Harness Racing Rule (AHRR) 25(4).

January 9, 2024: 

Stewart's legal representative sought to have a proceeding listed before the VRT to determine whether HRV's General Manager of Integrity and/or HRV were in contempt of the VRT. The VRT ordered the parties to provide written submissions as to whether HRV's decision to reject the stable returns was compliant with the orders of the stay.

May 22, 2024:

The VRT determined Stewart shouldn't be prevented from carrying out all aspects of training permitted by the licence, enabling a transfer of her horses.

June 5, 2024: 

The VRT heard Stewart's appeal against HRV's decision to disqualify her for six months for the two breaches and to fine her $2000 for a log book breach. The VRT upheld the appeals in relation to charges one and two and instead imposed $5000 fines on each charge ($10,000 in total). The VRT dismissed the appeal in relation to the log book charge.