COBALT CLOUDS HOVER OVER NSW
Not even the heart-stopping four-way finish to the Hobartville Stakes at Rosehill last Saturday or Lankan Rupee’s walloping of Deep Field in the Lightning in Melbourne could detract from the topic du jour of possible Cobalt positives returned by horses trained by some big names in Sydney.
The word on the street in sin city is that the authorities are bracing for implementing crisis management and damage control measures before names are made public and racing is, yet again,!dragged on to the front pages and leads the electronic bulletins for all the wrong reasons.
Try as they might to hold off for as long as possible, and ideally until after the “Championships”, the “Chinese whispers” have already begun. It is not just unedifying, but the brand damage to racing and to Sydney’s showcase racing carnival will negate any of the magnificent contests between some of Australia’s best horses, jockeys and trainers that everyone in Sydney and in the State have been looking forward to with anticipation.
If nothing else, Sydney and NSW desperately needs for the “Championships” to drown away so much of the self-inflicted damage to NSW racing, where there has been a failure to address a raft of problems from pathetically low field sizes, the implosion of TVN, the Randwick redevelopment, decades of neglected infrastructure, and the near unsustainability of much of NSW country racing.
The fallout has rendered racing to the status of a pedestrian sport despite the repetitious “spin” from the likes of the cheerleaders for Racing NSW – aka some of the News Limited racing media.
If a fraction of the “Chinese whispers” are correct, the fallout will be as big as in bleak city, and even the NSW racing-friendly print media in Sydney will find it difficult to “bury” the story, as they have at times been inclined to do on a variety of issues “sensitive” to racing in this state.
With a state election slotted in for some time in May, it’s a migraine on a red zone Richter scale that Premier Mike Baird and Racing Minister Troy Grant don’t need. And equally, some ill-judged comments smacking of the worst form of hubris attributed to Druitt Street’s “dear leader” on the ‘live’ baiting scandal that has engulfed Australian greyhound racing, could come back to bite him where the sun don’t shine, baby.
The magnitude of the dilemma for Racing NSW is amply demonstrated by both their “no comment” responses fuelling the obvious speculation, and merely confirming the rumours, and by its refusal to a request by Darren Smith’s counsel to name names before his cobalt charges are heard.
Despite the gravity of the charges facing Darren Smith and timing of the scandals facing all three racing codes, it’s always the involvement of the big, household names associated with any sport that inflict the greatest damage to the brand and image of the sport that they are associated with.
With the greatest respect to the “battlers” and minnows in any sport, their indiscretions, transgressions and involvements in scandals pale into insignificance and barely make a lesser part of half or one hour news bulletin.
Thankfully for racing, finding coverage for cases involving lower profile trainers in print media is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.
Not so with the big names, who, apart from winning a permanent place in their sport’s hall of shame, command the lead headlines in print and electronic mediums and in the chatter forums of social media.
NSW racing is in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t position, if the rumours sweeping the industry are correct.
The inescapable and monumental task facing the decision makers is coming to grips with how they are going to crisis manage. And in situations like this, the sooner the cards are laid on the table and decisive action is taken to charge, and if proven guilty, punish those responsible severely, the better.
But it cannot end there; science being as evolutionary as it is, racing, crime and law enforcement authorities have little option but to work collaboratively like they have never done before to share and gather intelligence about the next groups of sinister performance substances that are starting to be used on equine athletes, and which are making EPO and Cobalt look like the outdated substances which they already might be.
As important as detection, testing and analysis is, of equal and fundamental importance is the manufacture, distribution, supply and funding of what has become a lucrative growth industry with the inevitable links to organized crime. And funding for research and for resources, is, clearly and undisputedly, far more important a priority than prize money and throwing obscene amounts of money to increase the already bloated Saturday and feature race stakes levels.
If some of these problems are not addressed with actions rather than the sort of hollow rhetoric that is often heard at international racing conferences, racing will continue to decline and degenerate into a marginalized and niche sport with no relevance whatsoever in the community. And that scenario is getting closer to becoming a reality by the day.
SYDNEY WELCOMES THE INTERNATIONALS
The appearance this Saturday of one of Godolphin’s retained riders-James Doyle- to partner four of their runners at Warwick Farm is a significant positive for Sydney racing and for the Autumn carnival.
While Doyle, who will also be joined during the carnival by Godolphin co-retainer William Buick, doesn’t have the profile or “wow” factor down under of a Moreira, the hottest jockey in the world, and who, no doubt, will be a huge drawcard during the championships, their presence is a big positive for Sydney and for the carnival. It adds another dimension to internationalizing the Sydney carnival.
Tellingly the tacit acceptance of international jockeys being lured to ride in Sydney, contrasts markedly with some of the histrionics attributed in the Melbourne press to jockeys association CEO “dashing” Des O’Keefe.
O’Keefe and some of his brood were reported in the Melbourne Herald Sun as being “disappointed Racing Victoria has tried to entice champion English rider Ryan Moore to Victoria for two autumn carnival meetings”.
“Ryan Moore is welcome to come out here if people want him to ride their horses, but we would have a big issue with the PRA (principal racing authority), Racing Victoria sponsoring Ryan Moore to come”, O’Keefe is quoted as saying.
He is further quoted that it would have been more appropriate for Racing Victoria to promote local jockeys and that if it (Racing Victoria) didn’t believe they were good enough then just tell us (the Jockeys Association).
“Dashing” must have been having a seniors moment. He certainly cannot be serious? If anything, Racing Victoria should be commended for even thinking laterally and commercially in their efforts to crank up interest in what is an autumn carnival which is rapidly withering and being seriously challenged by a raft of exciting and well-promoted summer sports – most of which are based on attracting international competitors, many of them marquee names.
If racing can start to turn that around, and if sponsoring international names and brands can help, then they should be allowed to “just do it”!
O’Keefe’s comments attributed to him, and taken at face value, suggest he is yet another one of racing’s dinosaurs who are so immunised to change and the dynamics of modern marketing and the dynamics of human behaviour in the 21st century, that they are part of the problem and not part of the solution to addressing the depressing sight of empty racetracks at times when there should be signs of life in racing.
Promoting local jockeys in Melbourne? He cannot be serious. Yes, Damien Oliver is a class above the riding roster and Craig Williams can walk the walk and talk the talk, but who else is even remotely capable of even coming within the length of their Flemington straight of being considered capable or promoting racing?
Compared to Sydney’s roster which just oozes class – James McDonald, Hughie Bowman, Blake Shinn, Kerrin McEvoy, Tommy Berry, the evergreen Jimmy ‘the pumper” Cassidy, Tye Angland, Melbourne at this point in time falls short. Given time, Chad Schofield looms very brightly on the horizon.
If O’Keefe doesn’t believe that a Ryan Moore and a group of comparable “big name” international riders wouldn’t add extra faces in the crowd and stimulate interest and wagering, he must be inhaling and exhaling on another planet.
Some marquee international names would breathe life into a withering autumn carnival in bleak city. And if Racing Victoria wanted to throw them an air ticket, accommodation and an appearance fee, or shower them with “enticements”, then all credit to them. It will work better than their meaningless “relaxed racing” campaign.
And Des, treating your brood as a protected species smacks of outdated thinking.
From our observations, some of your local jocks that you are so protective of could do with a smarten up riding against some serious international competition.
One has to only point to Zac Purton, Brett Prebble, Kerrin McEvoy, Hughie Bowman, Damien Oliver, Craig Williams – all of whom have demonstrated how riding against the best has actually made them the best.
Thankfully, the Sydney jocks haven’t adopted a “closed shop” mentality. Let’s hope they don’t.
NEW TWIST ON SYDNEY’S FIELD SIZES.
There’s apparently a new culprit for the embarrassingly small field sizes in Sydney. According to “the messiah” John Messara, he who is the font of knowledge of all things to do with racing, a declining foal crop is one of the reasons for Sydney’s pathetically small field sizes.
The fact that no one – either in the Sydney racing media or within the racing community has had the nerve or fortitude to question what is little more than a thought bubble is indicative of how apathetic the racing community is and how “spin” is king in Sydney racing. Shane Warne would be proud.
A simple question for the ”messiah”: If the foal crop was a contributing factor in Sydney’s appallingly low field sizes, then why are Melbourne field sizes so consistently larger and more healthy?
No, the foal crop argument is yet another weapon to soften up the NSW racing community to accept boosting metropolitan prize money and engage in a prize money “arms race’ with the arch enemy Melbourne, and reward the wealthy elite owners and breeders in Sydney who don’t need to race for $100,000 on a Saturday.
It is similar to the flawed thinking of the proponents of universal welfare which has brought Australia’s welfare system to its knees.
Sydney desperately needs to fix up provincial and country prize money-and its decayed and decaying infrastructure- to bring its training and racing facilities up to acceptable modern standards.
It needs to allocate money to fund research and development to protect the integrity of the industry. It does not need to fill up the already bulging wallets of the elite who are so conflicted by their interests and yet occupy key decision making roles on the Boards and Committee of racing administrations and race clubs. Pete? Pete?
LIGHTNING PRIZE MONEY IS EMBARRASSING
For one of Australia’s best sprint races, and one which is part of the Global Sprint Challenge, the $500,000 prize money offered by the VRC for last Saturday’s Lightning Stakes is downright embarrassing. Wrongly, we assumed it was a million dollar race.
It can be made a million dollar race quickly and painlessly, and without a begging bowl being passed around by the VRC.
Chairman Michael Burn aka The Invisible Man simply needs to shave half a million from the reported $1 million plus pay deal that the VRC are prepared to offer their next Chief Executive, whoever that might be.
WADE BIRCH: QUEENSLAND’S SCAPEGOAT
The decision by Racing Queensland – the umbrella body for the three racing codes in the Sunshine State-to stand down their Chief Steward Wade Birch, below, over the live baiting scandal in greyhound racing makes a mockery of the push by a small-and unrepresentative section of the Victorian racing community- to introduce an umbrella integrity body independent of the governing bodies of the three codes and reporting to Racing Integrity Commissioner “Our Gal” Sal Perna.
Birch, whose background is thoroughbred racing and headed the code’s Integrity unit, has been clearly made a scapegoat for the scandal which has engulfed a code that would have been unfamiliar territory to him.
With Integrity resources stretched to the limit in thoroughbred racing in NSW and in Victoria and just about every other state with saturation racing, and facing an Everest like challenge to keep ahead of the cheats and criminal underworld from controlling the outcome of races, making the likes of Ray Murrihy and Terry Bailey responsible for integrity in the harness racing and greyhound racing codes, would be the lottery win that these cheats and criminals would have wished for.
Rather than knee-jerk with their “parasol” solutions, would it not be far more effective to provide more adequate professional manpower resources, funding and R&D funding to ensure that the thoroughbred racing integrity departments are able to successfully confront the challenges that are being thrown at racing by cheats and the criminal underworld?