AS BEMUSED trainer Robert Smerdon sought legal advice on Thursday night after being charged with acting in a way that was prejudicial to the interests of racing, former AFL footballer Mark Hunter, who placed the now infamous bet for banned jockey Damien Oliver, has been granted an indemnity.
Steward Rob Montgomery, who chaired the Oliver betting scandal, said that Hunter was a witness in the case and had been granted concessions for evidence he had supplied to the hearing.
''Yes, Hunter had helped us during the course of the inquiry. And he had earned concessions for doing so. After all, it was his information that brought about the Oliver case, however it is still an ongoing situation,'' Montgomery said.
Racing Victoria stewards have brought charges against Smerdon for passing on $11,000 in cash to Oliver in October 2010, the proceeds from a bet the now-disqualified jockey earned from backing Miss Octopussy at Moonee Valley earlier that month. ''I did a favour for a friend, an unquestioned favour. I didn't inquire what the money was for. For all I knew it could have been for a lot of reasons. And at the end of the day, it wasn't any of my business. I just passed it on.
''I can't get my head around how they [stewards] could come up with that charge under those circumstances. I don't think I have harmed the interests of racing. It was a case of a favour for a good friend.''
One of the state's leading trainers, Smerdon said he had been overwhelmed by the support from all levels of the industry.
''The support has been encouraging. [People] have said that they are supportive of me making a stand,'' he said.
The Victorian Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board will hear the charge against Smerdon at a date to be fixed. The penalties for the charge are on a sliding scale from a fine to disqualification.
Smerdon told stewards he had arranged with Oliver to pick up the package of cash at his Caulfield home after trackwork one morning.
However, stewards contend in their charges that Smerdon did not take, ''Any step to determine the reason or purpose for the payment from Mr Hunter to Mr Oliver''.
The Oliver betting affair, the disqualification of jockey Danny Nikolic for threatening chief steward Terry Bailey and a number of investigations by stewards into the illegal race-day treatment of horses have left the industry reeling in recent months.
Oliver had pleaded guilty to placing the bet on Miss Octopussy, but was allowed to ride through the spring carnival, with the investigation held over.
He was subsequently disqualified from riding for eight months and suspended for a further two months, leaving him with 10 months away from race-riding.
Stewards said their investigations into the involvement of other parties in the Oliver matter ''remains active''.
The charge against Smerdon comes on top of a recent $10,000 fine issued to him by stewards for negligence in allowing his horse Shewan to be treated on race day.