Inside the racing inquiry that hit Toowoomba's top trainer
THIS is the CCTV footage, obtained exclusively by The Courier-Mail, which stewards allege shows Mark Currie illegally treating horses on raceday at the Toowoomba stables of his leading trainer son, Ben Currie.
Ben Currie has been Queensland's leading trainer for the past two seasons, with his runners winning 250 races out of his Toowoomba stables.
But on April 7 this year stewards raided one of his barns prior to the running of that day's Toowoomba Weetwood Handicap.
Since that day, it has become one of the longest running inquiries in Queensland racing.
Investigators claimed to witness 'suspicious activity' in the stable, alleging the illegal race-day treatment of six horses that were to race that day.
They later retrieved CCTV footage from the stable and after viewing that footage, issued a string of charges. In addition to April 7, stewards have also alleged race-day treatments took place at the same stables on Saturday March 24.
As a result of those inquiries, Currie stablehand Greg Britnell was disqualified for 18 months over 15 charges relating to race-day treatment. Cameron Schwenke was suspended for three months for assisting in race-day treatments and Silde Cande was suspended for three months for giving false evidence.
Currie's father, Mark, was disqualified for two years relating to 16 charges.
Ben Currie is facing 31 charges relating to a string of alleged offences, pertaining to March 24, April 7 and a number of other activities.
A date is yet to be fixed on when those charges will be determined.
Currie was initially stood down from training, but won a Stay of Proceedings application with QCAT in June.
Late last month, Mark Currie was granted a Stay of Proceedings until his appeal is heard by QCAT at a date yet to be determined.
All of the stewards' inquiries have been held behind closed doors, with no access to media.
But with Mark Currie's stay application, documents pertaining to the case were filed with QCAT and The Courier-Mail can now reveal both the content of the CCTV footage and transcripts from the numerous inquiries that have taken place since Mark Currie was first questioned on April 7.
THE VIDEO EXPLAINED
CCTV footage taken from Ben Currie's Hursley Road stable in Toowoomba and what stewards allege happened on March 24. Note: The time listed in the right hand corner of the footage is 22 hours behind real time. This was established by investigators based on the actual time they entered the stables on the morning of April 7.
4.33am: Mark Currie appears in stables. Greg Britnell emerges from feed bin area holding white syringes in both hands.
Currie takes a syringe from Britnell and removes cap with mouth and enters box of Hang. Britnell distributes other syringes in front of boxes of Publishing Power, Gully Command and Givus A Cuddle.
4.35am: Mark Currie administers syringe orally to Hang. Currie exits box and Britnell walks towards him holding three white syringes.
4.36am: Mark Currie picks up white syringe off ground and enters box of Gully Command and allegedly administers syringe orally. Exits box and throws white syringe.
4.38am: Mark Currie picks up syringe in front of Publishing Power's box and enters. Moves to back of box. Exits box and throws syringe.
4.39am: Mark Currie picks up syringe in front of Givus A Cuddle's box and enters. Throws syringe from box.
8.09am: Mark Currie enters screen, retrieves a white syringe from under ice boots, puts it in his right pocket and walks to box of Gully Command. Currie then allegedly treats horse, exits box with horse and hands syringe to Britnell. Uses towel to wipe the muzzle of horse. Then rubs his thumb on left side jugular vein of horse before leading it onto the float truck.
Stewards allege the following happened on March 24 (not shown on video above):
9.29am: Britnell enters box of Hang and allegedly treats horse.
9.30am: Britnell enters box of Givus A Cuddle and allegedly treats horse.
9.33am: Britnell enters box of Publishing Power and allegedly treats horse.
Stewards allege the following happened on April 7 (not shown on video above):
3.49-3.57am: Greg Britnell enters boxes of:
Boomwaa (who was scratched from racing that day): Orally inserts white syringe into horse's mouth, wipes muzzle area with towel.
Gully Command: Vision of Britnell leaving box with syringe in hand.
Ruetigger: Allegedly administers syringe.
Publishing Power: Footage unclear, syringe visible in hand exiting.
Givus A Cuddle: Administers syringe orally.
Hang: Disappears from view, exits with towel and syringe visible.
With A Promise: Administers 'something' orally.
6.55am: After running through stables with white syringe in each hand Greg Britnell enters boxes of:
Boomwaa: Disappears from view.
Gully Command: Appears to administer syringe orally.
Publishing Power: Obscured. Exits and runs down laneway with syringe clearly visible.
Givus A Cuddle: Disappears from view. Exits holding syringe.
Hang: Disappears from view. Exits with syringe in left hand. QRIC alleges horse shows behaviour consistent with having been orally administered something.
In an Affidavit to QCAT lodged for his Stay of Proceedings hearing, Mark Currie said he and his son operate Currie Racing as a partnership and the operation of that business is his primary income.
"I know that my inability to assist my son Ben in training procedures will have a detrimental effect on the operation of our business as well as our financial status and business operations," he wrote.
In submissions prepared by his legal representatives, Butler McDermott Lawyers, for a stewards hearing on May 21, Currie claimed it was impossible for stewards to give him a fair hearing.
"It is submitted the stewards in this hearing are biased in the sense they cannot be seen to be acting fairly, reasonably or independently, because they have conducted enquiries relating to two stable hands as well as Mark Currie and Ben Currie and they have already found two stable hands guilty of offences," the statement read.
"It is submitted the panel is so badly infected by a lack of independence that stewards ought to disqualify themselves from these proceedings."
Currie claimed he should be found not guilty of the charges because he did not administer medication.
"The finding should be one of not guilty because boost paste is a vitamin and it is not a substance in the way in which the stewards are purporting to use the rule relating to medication or substance," the submission said.
In contrast, stewards say the fact it was a Boost Paste is irrelevant, because it still amounted to a race-day treatment.
Amongst the stewards evidence is an advertisement placed in Race Magazine (the official calendar for the Queensland Thoroughbred industry), detailing rules around race-day treatments, under the heading "Routes of Administration of Medication".
"ANY SUBSTANCE administered by injection, stomach tube, paste, dose syringe, topical application or by inhalation, amongst any other routes of administration, WILL BE CONSIDERED A MEDICATION. Only normal feeding and supplementation that can be used by the horse voluntarily eating or drinking the feedstuff can be acceptable on the day of racing. NOTE: All injections are subject to a rule not permitting them within one clear day."
I TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
Mark Currie was interviewed by QRIC's integrity regulation unit manager Tracey Pelling at Clifford Park on April 12, where he acknowledged horses could not be administered Boost Paste via a syringe on raceday.
MC: Boost goes Tuesday, Thursdays, or whenever they gallop. Vitamin C, about the same. And the turmeric every day. That's with the racing part cut out.
TP: Every day?
MC: Well, not - when you're going into a race, you've got to cut off on a Thursday.
TP: Yeah, OK. So you know that rule?
Currie is then shown vision of stable employee Greg Britnell using syringes to treat horses in the Hursley Road stable. Currie says it would be either Vitamin C or Boost in the syringes.
TP: So is that - like normal practice?
MC: Not race day it's not, no.
TP: So what happened?
MC: How would I know? I wasn't there. You've got to trust people. That's the way it is.
TP: So you're saying he's done this off his own bat?
MC: Well I don't know. I've got no idea. You can only monitor so much.
TP: So the race day horses that were at your stables that day were Boomwaa (scratched), Gully Command, Publishing Power, Hang, Givus A Cuddle, Ruttiger, With A Promise. What can you tell us about what you've seen now?
MC: Well, nothing I can say. It's all there in black and white.
MC: But how do you know which horses they were?
TP: Because we - I - they've identified them.
MC: Yeah, but you don't know whether they're the same horses. You didn't turn up there until later.
TP: We've interviewed them (Greg Britnell and Cameron Schwenke).
MC: Righto, Whatever you reckon.
Currie appeared at a stewards inquiry in Brisbane the following day, where chief steward Allan Reardon continued a similar line of questioning relating to the same footage of Britnell allegedly treating those horses on April 7.
AR: They're not going into feeds, are they?
MC: Oh, no.
AR: They're going into the horse's mouth. Do you agree with that?
MC: Yeah, he did do a fair few horses there.
AR: So it's not going in the feed.
MC: No, I know.
Later, during same session Currie told stewards "I'll just take the responsibility."
AR: But you're not listed as the trainer, your son is, Ben.
MC: Yeah, I know. But I'm there running that part for him. You've got to take some responsibility, haven't you?
A week later Currie again returned to the QRIC offices, this time where stewards were armed with footage on the morning of Saturday March 24.
AR: … You agree that Gully Command's been treated on that day?
AR: Is there anything you'd like to say before the team here review further footage?
MC: No. I'll just take it - I'll take responsibility for it.
Stewards then issue the charges relating to alleged race day treatment of Gully Command, Publishing Power, Hang, With A Promise and Givus A Cuddle on March 24.
The charges continue pertaining to April 7, but Currie interjects when the charge relating to that day's Toowoomba Guineas winner Hang is read out.
MC: Not Hang.
AR: Not Hang?
MC: No. I'm not accepting Hang. Wasn't done. Not accepting that. There's no proof Hang was done.
Steward Ian Brown: On what basis do you say Hang wasn't treated as compared to the others?
MC: Hang had it in his feed.
Brown: But the remaining horses listed in those charges, the paste wasn't put in the feed?
MC: I'm not, um, arguing about anything. I'm just saying I will be doing something about Hang.
he inquiry continued on Friday May 11, where Currie told stewards he would be making no further comments based on legal advice.
MC: I've asked for representation here today. (You) denied it. I've got no more comment until I'm represented and it's a fair playing field. I don't understand any of the charges. I need representation.
On May 21, stewards handed Currie a two-year disqualification.
"The CCTV footage recovered from the Hursley Road stables provides a window into the practice engaged in by yourself and other employees of Currie Racing," Reardon said.
"Your actions on 24 March in front of Mr Britnell and other employees suggests that race-day administration of medication contrary to the rules is not uncommon.
"The industry is relying on the belief that all horses are competing on a level playing field. Your actions clearly seek to undermine this belief by obtaining an unfair advantage."