By Keyser Soze in Australia
MORE SYCOPHANTIC PROPAGANDA ON NSW RACING
He’s NSW racing’s “reliable man”. The NSW limited rag – the Daily Smellygraph’s Racing Editor Ray Thomas, always ready and willing to hit the keyboard and talk up and “spin” NSW Racing and interview one of his favourites, and ours for that matter, Racing NSW CEO Peter Vlundies.
“Industry making giant strides” was the title of Ray Thomas’ piece greeting the diminishing number of racing fans flicking through the sports pages of the News Limited rag last Friday, with the accompanying subtext in bold: “RACING IN THIS STATE IS PROFITING FROM THE VISION AND HARD WORK OF SOME DEDICATED OFFICIALS WHO HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED IN THE PRODUCT”.
One could easily be forgiven for believing that the growing number of critics of NSW racing – the majority of the “50,000” participants in NSW racing- were permanently defying their doctors orders and refusing to take their prescription medications. How else could they fail to acknowledge the utopian state of racing in NSW?
Forget the appalling and embarrassing metropolitan field sizes producing less than eight starters- and often as low as four or six starters on a Saturday program. Forget also the obviously flawed handicapping and ratings system, the accelerating trend towards elitism with the same band of “usual suspects” dominating the owners and trainers in NSW, the alarming drop out rates in the owners and trainers ranks, the Kensington track debacle, the years of neglect on country and provincial racing infrastructure, and the regular loss of race meetings because the exalted deity of NSW racing refuses to install a synthetic track.
No folks, racing in NSW is powering ahead thanks to the “vison and hard work of some dedicated officials”. Yes indeed, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus and he’s shacked up with Snow White and the Garden Gnomes.
Field sizes was lucky to get a look in, with a one sentence throwaway from Pete: “There are always challenges. One of the most important is to take all measures available to increase the size of race fields”. Please don’t, Pete. We’ve got to like small fields and the smaller pools and fewer exotic bets to worry about. It’s been such an eternity that Racing NSW may have to re-educate punters in some of the exotic bets which depend heavily on field sizes in excess of four to attract pools and punters. But, punters, owners, trainers and “50,000” participants, fear not, there’s a suite of “exciting new initiatives” designed to help punters”. Initiatives to ensure “punters get the best possible service”. And just in case you’ve been suffering from sunstroke; vision, yes vision, is now available on the Racing NSW website for every NSW race and barrier trial. Reminds you of the days when the introduction of “colour” brightened up the miserable lives of black and white television’s army of “couch potatoes”, doesn’t it?
And no, punters and “50,000” participants, it doesn’t end there. Tracking systems (tracking systems?), measuring “complete sectional times for every runner in a race not just the leader” are to be rolled out at 20 tracks to enable punters to “study the acceleration rate of each horse, the distance it ran in a race”. Is he for real? Perhaps Pete can convince his Tabcorp mates to install computers and consoles and turn their retail shops into high tech classrooms with tutors to turn mister and misses average punter into punting computer robotic geniuses?
But wait, there’s still more for the long-suffering punters, and, particularly, the stay-at-home couch potato variety: “We (presumably Racing NSW) are also investing heavily in high definition camera units. Sky Channel doesn’t have a HD channel at the moment but we are negotiating with Sky to have Sky Thoroughbred Central (Ch521) broadcast in high-definition on Foxtel”. Wouldn’t racing be better off if Sky, and its woeful Thoroughbred Central got its act together first before throwing shareholder and industry monies away at high-definition broadcasting?
Thomas’ entire interview smacked of more of the same boring “spin”. This was no Doubting Thomas. This was a puff piece talking up a racing industry in one of Australia’s largest states that is still incapable of fixing up the basic problems that have confronted it and its “50,000” participants over the past several years. How could anyone seriously claim that “Racing in this state (NSW) is profiting from the vision and hard work of some dedicated officials who have always believed in the product”, when NSW racing continues to fail to resolve the fundamental issue of metropolitan field sizes, neglected infrastructure in the provincial and country tracing and training centres, the continuing loss of race meetings in both these sectors because of a lack of an all weather synthetic racing surfaces?
Will there ever be a day of reckoning for the decision makers and power breakers in NSW racing? It can’t come soon enough.
ONCE A CHAMP, ALWAYS A CHAMP
Darren Gauci aka “The Gauch”, reminded the racing world of his wonderful skills and talent as one of Australia’s best horsemen in the modern era with a masterful winning ride on Tudor in the feature sprint race at Flemington last Saturday. Tudor is a useful sprinter, but certainly no star.
“The Gauch”, one of the best judges of pace, and a front running rider par excellence, was at his very best on Tudor over 1400 metres, a distance which had proven to be beyond his capabilities.. But not so last Saturday, Suggesting to connections after his last run that the blinkers be taken off, “The Gauch” produced a gem of a ride. It was a combination of making the horse relax and feel comfortable in the run, with a time perfect measurement of the horse’s gallop and then letting go at the right time to establish a margin and pinch the race. He’s done it so many times during his illustrious career, it makes one wonder how his fellow jocks let him get away with the equivalent of “blue murder” in a race. Perhaps it’s his intuitive ability to mix up the pace on different horses that it keeps his rivals guessing and, importantly, the horse as well.
It would be a lost opportunity of epic proportions if the governing body in Victoria – Racing Victoria- did not sign “The Gauch” up on to its education unit to teach and mentor apprentices and jockeys completing their apprenticeships. There would be none better than “The Gauch” to fill such an important role. Really. Just allow him the freedom to get on with what he knows best. Idle hands have been the undoing of great hires. Ask our good mate John Didham about how the powers-that-be dicked him around when trying to get the best outta the Apprentice scheme he was hired to make work. He left giving them the two finger salute.
What’s with this awful trait of so many racing executives to make their presence felt in areas where they are completely outta whack with reality- and the subject at hand? Like The Verve sang, is it to do with The Drugs Don’t Work Anymore?
THE UNDIGNIFIED COBALT AFTERMATH
Grace under pressure has always been a reasonably accurate yardstick of a person’s character. And if it was put to the test during the sad and sorry cobalt saga in Australian racing, there would be many who would fail the test. Miserably. Who’s Grace, anyway?
The aftermath of the penalty hearings for Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh, were, at best, undignified, at worst, a lesson in how arrogance, disrespect and contempt can expose serious character flaws, which can irreparably damage reputations and disenfranchise any fair-minded sympathisers who might have been swayed by claims of a miscarriage of justice.
Running an aggressive and, at times, vindictive defence against charges of any kind through a loud hailer in the media with childish and inflammatory one-liners is a foolproof way to lose community support and sympathy- so critical when formulating and articulating a strategy to defend charges.
It also fatally assumes that lawmakers and upholders of the law neither read the print media or listen to the electronic media, or discuss such matters in a social or legal environment among their peers. It also fatally assumes the same with the court of public opinion and within the racing community.
Far from raising doubts about the fairness of the rules and the integrity processes, it distractingly focuses on the personality of the individual and his or her guilt- dangerous when there appear legitimate concerns about the integrity processes surrounding these cobalt cases.
Again the parallels with the doping cases against the NRL Cronulla players and the AFL’s Essendon players and their different plea strategies, Damien Oliver’s plea strategy and those adopted by the trainers charged with using cobalt, demonstrate the “penalty minimisation” value of plea bargaining. The Cronulla NRL players, and Damien Oliver benefitted through significantly reduced penalties, thanks to the wisdom and astute advice from their legal teams.
Had the Victorian trainers charged with the cobalt positives used the “special circumstances” clause in their local rules of racing to plea bargain with Racing Victoria Stewards and the Racing Appeals Board, they would have received lesser penalties, which, if negotiated 12 months ago, may have resulted in them resuming their training careers possibly within a year or a year and a half at best, apart from the massive savings on legal costs and substantially lesser damage to their reputations and to the image of racing itself. And we have been reliably informed that the “special circumstances” clause has been used successfully by Victorian trainers to negotiate reduced penalties, contrary to what the Herald Sun’s Matt Stewart reported in Friday’s edition of the newspaper when he quoted one lawyer saying that: “There’s just no wriggle room. Everyone pleads not guilty because there’s just nothing to gain, no reprieve for a guilty plea”.
No “wriggle room”? Wonder what our great mate and bulldog of a barrister Kevin Egan would think of that? If this is the sort of wriggly legal advice that some of the trainers have received, then they have been seriously short-changed and left, well, wriggling.
SHORT AND VERY LONG TAKES
THE OTHER HORSE OPERA
Forget all this Big C- Cobalt-horse opera. This has been so badly handled by those in racing in Victoria doing the handling- where’s Our Gal Sal, these days?- that this will run and run and run for years with appeals, more appeals, various references to the third bikey on the grassy knoll, supposed secret out clauses by the dead men walking, and more rumours and innuendos than those discussed at the bar of the Emerald Hotel on a Saturday night.
On a lighter note- and still in racing Victoria- what’s the story behind the slight altercation between two trainers- one being a Melbourne Cup winning trainer- after Ballarat Cup Day, which one hears, boiled over to fisticuffs this week?
And on the subject of who’s zooming who, let’s hear it for the hookup between a new trainer to the state and a high profile female jockey. One believes her riding skills will be exclusive to this new trainer. Riding. Almost everyone in Australian racing circles seems to be doing so much riding these days, one has to wonder when they have time to actually make it onto a racecourse- even with bruised knees and on wobbly legs.
WHAT NEXT? PASSING GAS? ON AIR?
Look, believe us when we say that we’re not alone in thinking that the HKJC has not exactly hired The A Team as part of its new English broadcasting team. But, if the Club thinks audiences don’t mind watching a product featuring on-the-job training for not-for-prime time players, so be it. It must be part of a bigger plan.
As a race caller Brett Davis has gone up very high in the handicaps, and the others are making the best of a gig they should protect like being the only one nailing Jennifer Lawrence on a rainy day. Someone has decided to hire them, and we’re sure they know what they were doing.
Forgetting the tired, lame and mucous in the trachea format of these shows that are meant to be informative with, at least, a smidgen of infotainment, what we have a real problem with, however, is the belching. That’s right, belching- and belching on air.
Of course, we totally understand that after many Chinese meals, letting out the North and South winds show satisfaction and is supposed to be a sign of appreciation to one’s hosts. Fine.
Having said this, when one particular member of the Chinese broadcast team continues to belch on-air while announcing his tips- and they are so off it makes the Composite Win Bet look positively eclectic- well, it just puts us off breakfast, lunch, dinner… and sex. It’s kinda like dining with Mr Creosote.
Someone puhleese cure this person’s gastric problems before putting him on air. Surely, the belching, week in and week out, is a cry for help? Or for another box of chow fan.
Last week’s fines issued to jockeys in Melbourne for breaches of the “new” whips rules raises the prospect of an inevitable and ugly stoush between jockeys and Racing Australia. The uneasy truce between the two parties is certain to be tested over coming months when, with the high prize money for the feature Autumn carnivals in Melbourne and Sydney, the ability of jockeys to abide by the new rules will be severely tested. The prospect of heavier fines, suspensions and protests hover over racing, with industrial action and open war between the two parties a very real nightmarish possibility.
SHANE O, A MAN OF SUBSTANCE AND CONTENT.
Welcome news for Victoria’s RSN tragics. Our dear old mate Shane O is about to exit his morning shift on the dead people’s station which, not surprisingly, chooses not to participate in any listener surveys. Why? Ever seen the movie “The Sixth Sense”?
Shane O’s replacement is Michael Felgate from the Seven network, and Racing.com will, hopefully, to use one of Shane O’s favourite clichés, dabble in a bit more “fan engagement” to brighten up the dreary morning slot.
Meanwhile, Shane O will continue to greet Racing.com viewers with his now-familiar frown, lurking Anthony Perkins body language, and Joan Crawford-type television persona. Coat hangers! BRING. ME.THE.COAT.HANGERS! Gawd knows, horse racing in the land of Oz needs something different to revive it- it’s own Lazarus- and thank goodness and beat those tambourines for Shane O.
After what must have been an exhaustive search for the position, Shane O has now been also given the role of Content manager for Racing.com. Seriously now, what “content” does a racing website need? More vapid interviews? Paddock parades? The races? And then what? Shane O discussing fashions on the field? Perhaps some of this new content can come from Bruce Mann and his new and excellent adventure far far away from horse racing? Or content from John Wall’s G1X Racing game changer? Is all still peachy keen with that setup? Hope so after all the relentless chest-pounding, tap dancing and verbal somersaults.
GO DOLPHIN? BUT WHERE?
Much talk and chatter in racing circles in Sydney and Melbourne, about the Godolphin winning strike rate over the past couple of seasons, and, in particular, the somewhat benign and less than successful strike rate in the important group One and Two races by their Australian breds given their black type pedigrees. Of significance is the continuing low Melbourne Spring and Autumn carnival strike rates of their head trainer John O’Shea whose Melbourne strike rate remains unchanged since he took over the powerful Godolphin operation from Peter Snowden. The forthcoming Sydney and Melbourne Autumn carnivals may change things. They will need to.