Rogue trainer’s drug conviction hurts local horse racing

By Frankie D’Cruz and Tony Emmanuel

The conviction of former Australian horse trainer John Nikolic for smuggling cocaine worth millions into Fiji has raised troubling questions over his:

• Exceptional wins on the Malaysia circuit.
• Alleged links with organised crime rings here.

John, who was last week jailed 23 years for smuggling drugs on his luxury yacht, had a chequered race record in Malaysia.

Once branded as one of racing’s most feared men, John spent six years in Malaysia from 2002, training 18 horses at Ipoh.

He notched about 60 wins with his best season in 2006 when he trained 16 winners.

He enjoyed another 13 wins the following year but that season was marred when he was fined RM30,000 after various prohibited substances were seized from his stable.

A routine stable inspection by stewards found a member of his staff to be in possession of Dexamethasone and Salicylic Acid.

John then decided to end his stay in Malaysia and gave notice not to renew his Malaysian Racing Association licence.

He was also in the centre of investigations into the execution-style killing of wealthy horse trainer Les Samba in 2011 in Australia.

His brother, Danny, another disgraced trainer who was married to Samba’s daughter was the main suspect.

His murder remains one of Victoria’s most notorious unsolved crimes, with speculation that some of Australia’s colourful racing personalities were involved.

Gangland investigators believed the shooting of Samba was ordered by an international organised crime ring.

Samba is believed to have had links to crime figures in Australia, Malaysia and other countries.

It was revealed that Samba believed he was going to make big money at the Inglis thoroughbred sales.

He is thought to have falsely believed he was going to pocket AU$150,000 (about RM440,000) for buying AU$3 million (RM8.6m) in racehorses on behalf of wealthy Malaysian businessmen.

John had lived and worked in Malaysia for six years before returning to Australia in 2009, which investigators believe may explain the Malaysian connection.

The Malaysians were never identified.

The Nikolic family is one of the most controversial in horse racing.

John and Danny have had serious brushes with racing authorities that included:

• 80 suspensions and 60 “severe reprimands” by Racing Victoria since 1990.
• By the time he was 19, Danny had already been suspended 13 times.
• Betting scandals.
• Treating horses with prohibited drugs.
• Preventing their horses from “racing freely”.
• Threatening racing stewards.

Their suspected crime trail included:

• Murder of Samba.
• Peppering with bullets the front door of Victoria’s chief racing steward on the eve of the Melbourne Cup last year.
• Underworld involvement.

Last June, John and wife Yvette were arrested after Fijian authorities discovered more than US$14million (RM57.25m) worth of drugs and two guns, on their carelessly-named yacht ‘Shenanigans’, as it arrived in Port Denarau.

Shenanigan John drank a cocktail of methamphetamine and liquid cocaine to attempt self-harm moments before he was arrested.

He was last week found guilty of drug importation, possession, and failure to declare arms and ammunition to a customs officer following a trial at the High Court in Suva.

John will be in the slammer for 18 years with no parole while Yvette was acquitted on all charges.