Dual-Melbourne Cup winning trainer Robert Hickmott, who recently relocated his stables to Ballarat, has been fined $2000 for directing two Melbourne-based workers to attend a boozy luncheon at Smeaton that sparked a COVID scare in the racing industry.
It can be revealed that 10 licensed trainers from Ballarat, including Hickmott, four registered stable employees and one unlicensed person attended a lunch at Tuki on September 30.
A Racing Victoria stewards report disclosed that during the lunch, a guest was informed that a family member, who is not involved in the racing industry, had been identified as being a close contact of COVID-19.
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As a result, all other attendees were deemed secondary contacts by Racing Victoria and barred from attending licensed racing premises until they returned negative COVID-results. All attendees were cleared by the evening of October 1.
Racing Victoria did not suggest the group or Tuki breached public health directions.
The inquiry uncovered that the lunch party was originally booked for 10 people inside the main restaurant room. Late bookings ultimately increased the numbers to 15, prompting restaurant management to move the reservation to an outdoor setting.
Smeaton, as part of the Hepburn Shire, was not in lockdown at the time. The public health directions allowed capacity limits of 10 people indoors and 30 outdoors at food and drink facilities in regional Victoria.
Racing Victoria stewards established that nine guests travelled to Tuki from Ballarat in a mini van, while the other six guests travelled privately in four separate vehicles. Stewards concluded that the majority of the guests were unaware of who else would be attending the lunch until they arrived.
The report said two registered attendees were residents of greater Melbourne, which was still in lockdown, and were authorised to travel to Ballarat to work for Hickmott.
The authorised worker permits did not allow them to travel into regional Victoria for anything other than a permitted reason.
The stewards determined the two workers did not realise they were attending the lunch until hours before the event and did so at the direction of Hickmott.
Subsequently, Racing Victoria stewards issued Hickmott a charge under AR227(a), alleging the trainer engaged in conduct or negligence which led or could have led to a breach of the rules of racing by the two workers.
Hickmott pleaded guilty and was issued a fine of $2000.
"In determining the appropriate penalty, the Stewards took into account Mr Hickmott's early guilty plea, his cooperation with the Stewards, his remorse, and his evidence that when organising for the employees to attend the luncheon, he genuinely overlooked that they were subject to different restrictions to him and therefore unable to attend (given they live in the Greater Melbourne Area and he lives in regional Victoria)," the Stewards report read.
"The Stewards also considered the need for general deterrence and to remind racing participants that they need to familiarise themselves with the relevant COVID-19 requirements.
"Having interviewed all 15 guests who attended the luncheon and the restaurant management at Tuki, and having considered all the relevant circumstances surrounding the luncheon, the Stewards have determined that no further action will be taken."
Hickmott, who saluted in the Melbourne Cup in 2012 with Green Moon and Almandin in 2016, moved his base to Ballarat in early September ahead of the closure of his Caulfield complex.
Hickmott will ultimately take up residence in a new barn being constructed on-course at Dowling Forest.
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