OLIVER IN A TWIST
The skeletons just keep falling out of what is very obviously Victorian racing’s bulging closet. It is a very unedifying spectacle to say the least. Victorian racing’s brand, image and integrity has been trashed like never before, thanks to the relentless outing of a raft of unsavoury allegations ranging from race-fixing to illegal betting by jockeys and the involvement, on a very large scale, of the criminal underworld.
If the Smoking Aces race fixing allegations and the farcical last man standing stoush involving Danny Nikolic was not enough, Victorians were greeted on Sunday morning to a major story in the Sunday Age by the Fairfax investigative team of Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker alleging that champion jockey Damien Oliver was under investigation for placing a successful $10,000 bet through a third party on Miss Octopussy to win a race at a Moonee Valley night race meeting in October 2010. The twist: Damien Oliver was not the rider of Miss Octopussy. He rode the second favourite in the race Europa Point and allegedly bet against Europa Point.
The Rules of Racing, whether they are archaic or not, are quite simple in relation to jockeys and betting. Jockeys are forbidden from betting. Full stop. The rules are stated in the simplest and clearest of language and terminology, so that even the most illiterate of those “pint sized rascals” can understand.
“Look what we got! A tall woman who’s been to the Paris Hilton! She knows how we can get in for free from the rear.”
It must be emphasized that these are merely allegations against Damien Oliver. Stewards are conducting an official inquiry into the allegations. But tellingly, in a statement issued through the Victorian Jockeys Association, Oliver made no reference to the veracity of the allegations. “With regard to the allegations made in the Fairfax Media this morning, I cannot and will not make any comment other than to say allegations such as these are damaging and hurtful and everyone, myself included should have the right to a due process being followed here. With that in mind I’d request that my rights in this area be respected. That’s all I have to say on the matter at this time”.
We can only hope that the allegations are without foundation. They have been in circulation in racing’s underground over the past month or so and like most rumours in racing, they multiply faster than the crabs and add several layers of embellishment in the process.
From a personal perspective Damien Oliver has had his share of personal issues in recent times. He has battled adversity admirably along his journey to the top and after. Thanks to horse racing, he is a wealthy man who won’t need food vouchers from the Salvation Army when he hangs up his riding boots. He has a very young family and charming wife. They don’t deserve the glare from the blowtorch that will continue to be applied to the breadwinner of the family. Damien is one tough cookie. He is a champion jockey and has been for the past two decades. He is resilient and one can be forgiven that he thrives on adversity.
In the immediate aftermath of the Sunday Age story, and after his public dumping from Cox Plate favourite Green Moon and international contender Quest Form Peace in the Caulfield Cup, Damien did what he has done for most of his riding career, he bounced back in dramatic style to win the 1000 Guineas on Commanding Jewel. It was not just winning a Group One race, but the way he it was done. It was a classic Damien Oliver ride – an eleven out of ten. He was cool and unflappable and very Damien Oliver.
He has bounced back before when the heat has been under the sort of pressure that few could cope with. Who could forget his amazing winning ride aboard Media Puzzle in the Melbourne Cup, just days after his only brother Jason tragically lost his life after a race fall. It was one of the most dramatic moments ever in racing and eventually was the subject of a movie. But as recent events in the world of cycling have shown heroes can morph into villains overnight when allegations of corruption and wrong doing hijack the media headlines.
On a wider scale, what is very difficult to come to grips with is why any jockey would risk their livelihoods, careers, reputations and whatever else is at stake by such flagrant disregard for a fundamental rule of racing. Much worse, if you actually punt a sizeable sum on another runner in the same race that you are riding in. It’s not a good look, is it?
Racing, like many other sports, is not short of do-gooders. The vast majority of those that have climbed to the top of the tree and become legends are some of the most generous souls in the community. They have donated and keep donating their hearts and souls and vast portions of their wealth to very worthwhile causes. They are the real deal in the world of philanthropy. Damien Oliver has given so much of his time to so many causes. He has put his money where his mouth is and donated to many causes as well. It just makes this whole messy saga, if the allegations are substantiated, just so much more difficult to come to terms with.
For Victorian racing however, there are some very dark clouds circling on the horizon. Regrettably, further explosive and damaging allegations of race fixing, illegal betting and criminal activity are just a Usain Bolt like 100 metre sprint away. They will add an unexpectedly heavy burden on the already stressed resources of the Victorian stewards and the Victorian Police.
Racing Victoria and the Victorian racing industry have no room to manoeuvre. They will be forced to demonstrate that they are capable of acting swiftly, diligently and decisively to extinguish the flames that threaten to engulf horse racing in a State that has boasted it’s supremacy for several decades.
“Is there any way outta this fucking mess?”
GAI’S CRITICS HAVE SHORT MEMORIES
The topic du jour at Caulfield last Saturday was all about Australian racing’s highest profile racing identity – the irrepressible Gai Waterhouse. Gai is racing’s most marketable phenomenon – an iconic figure that has done more to promote and market racing than anyone else alive today – Black Caviar excepted.
And as we moved around Caulfield the topic of conversation was all about the defeats of More Joyous and Pierro, their jockey Nash Rawiller, and of course Gai. Judging by some of the commentary, both on-course and post race in the media, it reminded us so much of the Australian trait to cut down “tall poppies” with an indecent haste, and often for the most bizarre and irrational reasons.
While we can empathize with the criticism of Nash Rawiller’s rides on both horses, it was the line about Gai’s runners being very “one-dimensional” that really rankled. The reasoning went along these lines – Gai’s horses are trained to race on-pace and there is no Plan B when circumstances change during a race.
What many of these short-memoried critics fail miserably to comprehend is how radically racing has changed from the dreaded “good old days” that they nostalgically seek solace in as they play the blame game that racing does so bloody well.
In those “good old days”, jockeys would be stoned in the town square if they did not allow their mounts to settle in the back half or rear of the field and make searching runs from the top of the straight. Horses were bred differently, tracks were used sparingly and thus prepared very differently. Speed maps were for Bathurst, tempo racing was unheard of, sectionals drew blank stares. Technology was all about big, ugly and heavy machinery coming out of the blast furnaces of Europe and the States.
Racing these days is unrecognizable from the so-called “good old days”. Trainers, their form analysts and jockeys spend a shit load of time and money using a plethora of information that is readily processed and available to find that special “edge” and advantage that is the difference between winning and losing. And that difference these days is like the real estate and property mantra – its about position, position and position. Getting your horse to take up a position in running is critical in maximizing winning opportunities.
When Gai’s horses get to the track they are literally fine-tuned to the minute. They are so race fit, they can race at the right tempo or cruising speed or whatever you care to call it throughout a race – from when the barriers let go right through to the finish. It is what makes her strike rate so good.
More Joyous and Pierro did not lose because of what the armchair critics described as their one-dimensional style of racing and by implication training. They weren’t two of Nash Rawiller’s best rides. But there were other factors as well. Weight wise, More Joyous would have needed to have taken her champion qualities and status to unbelievably high levels to win the Toorak. Let’s not forget either that she has been on top of the mountain for longer than Mohammed. While it is playing with fire to question her ability to keep performing at her extraordinarily high levels, win or lose, her best days might just be behind her.
Pierro on the other hand, has in his eight starts, done what few other champion three year olds can boast. He has been a standout. In defeat he was as good as he has been in victory. Nash appeared to have had no Plan B, after slightly missing the start and then choosing not to take a sit behind the pace.
Having said that he still may not have beaten All Too Hard, who clearly is more comfortable racing anti-clockwise. Pierro had the hardest of runs and going on to the Cox Plate on Saturday week may be asking too much of this champion colt.
Neither Pierro nor More Joyous can be described as one – dimensional. Gai and her training methods certainly can’t.
“All of you, dear chaps, fuck off. Lovely.”
BOARD RUMBLINGS AT NEWCASTLE SEND AN OMINOUS WARNING
The Newcastle Herald report last week that the $12 million grant from Racing NSW to the Newcastle Jockey Club to fix the ailing racing and training facilities at Newcastle racecourse has “strings attached” is a cause for great concern for all NSW racing clubs.
According to Geoff Wilson’s report, Racing NSW has placed a caveat on the grant with the proviso that three of the seven member Board of the Club be appointed by Racing NSW. Whilst a case can be mounted for such a caveat, a significant part of the Club membership obviously don’t think so.
Wilson reports that a recent meeting of in excess of 50 Club members, resolved to petition the Club seeking a general meeting to discuss a proposed change to the constitution which would be required to meet the demands of Racing NSW. From what we have heard and been told, Newcastle Jockey Club members are not happy campers. The divisions over just about every issue makes the Gaza Strip look like it is a permanent cease fire zone.
A very significant number of members fear that a constitutional change (which requires a 75 per cent affirmative vote), would forever compromise the independence of the Club. Pointedly they also fear the “big brother” factor and are suspicious of the motives of the governing body.
From a Racing NSW perspective, it would be difficult to reject the necessity for the most rigid scrutiny to be applied to ensure that the $12 million is spent entirely for the purposes for which it is intended. Equally it is difficult not sympathize with the concerns of the members who fear a more sinister agenda is being road tested at Newcastle as a blueprint for racing governance, administration and decision making in NSW.
Their concerns are shared by a growing and influential band of prominent NSW racing people who point to a subtle and deliberate process of intervention by Racing NSW in seeking to influence the outcome of many key issues in NSW racing. The Wyong – Gosford racing clubs merger, the aggregation of NSW media rights, the future status of Rosehill as a Group One venue for signature race meetings, the bubbling issues surrounding the future of Canterbury racetrack, and a rationalization of country racing and training venues are few of the key issues which have created a high degree of angst in NSW racing circles.
While the release of the review into a possible merger of the Wyong and Gosford Race Clubs and decision on the aggregation of the NSW media rights may not be all that far away, Newcastle Jockey Clubs will be bracing themselves for what is shaping up to be a very fiery AGM and Board election on November 27.
SUPER SATIN RETURNS TO ADELAIDE
South Australia’s Saturday metropolitan race meeting at Morphettville is in no danger of stealing a media headline this weekend in light of what is an exceptionally enticing Caulfield Cup day race meeting – one of Australian racing’s feature days on the racing calendar.
But buried among the acceptances for a pedestrian program is former Hong Kong Derby winner Super Satin. He will carry the number one saddlecloth in the weight for age Durbridge Stakes over 1200 metres and will be ridden by top Adelaide jockey Matthew Neilson for trainer Phillip Stokes. Ranjan Mahtani, who owned and raced the Derby winner in Hong Kong under the care of Caspar Fownes has retained ownership of the seven year old gelding.
Super Satin recorded a slashing win in the Hong Kong Derby, one of the feature races on the racing calendar under a brilliant ride from premier jockey Douglas Whyte and an outstanding training performance by one of Hong Kong’s best trainers in Caspar Fownes.
We will be watching Super Satin’s return to South Australian racing – he started his racing career in the State before moving on to Hong Kong – with great interest, while taking in a fabulous Caulfield Cup day program.
GAI DELIVERS A SOLID WHACK TO NSW RACING
When Gai Waterhouse speaks, you listen. Apart from her amazing CV as a racehorse trainer, she is highly intelligent and analytical, which lets face it is a rare and almost extinct commodity within the racehorse training fraternity.
So when we heard about her response to a question at a racing gathering in Melbourne, we paused took a deep breath and recognized that yet again the first lady of Australian racing could be on the money.
The question asked of Gai went along the lines of “what would you do to boost NSW racing?” The response went along the lines of “I’d move NSW to Victoria and get some decent races programmed”.
Our Melbourne mates of course are dining out on Gai’s cutting, take no prisoners response. It just emphasizes the task ahead for John “The Messiah” Messara and his still relatively “new” Board of racing NSW. To be fair, many of the problems that exist in NSW Racing were inherited by the current board. Perhaps Messara and his Board should be applying the blowtorch on high heat to the Racing NSW administration and its senior management. But will they?