By Keyser Soze
TIMING IS EVERYTHING – IN RACING AND IN LIFE
Kate McClymont is not a name which the Australian racing community would be familiar with, let alone the racing community in her native NSW. But last Saturday’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald changed all that.
Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax on-line readers would however know that Kate McClymont is a widely respected crime and investigative reporter with Fairfax. Like her Fairfax Victorian stable counterparts – Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, she has forged a reputation as one of Australia’s most fearless members of the Fifth Estate. Her exposes on corrupt and criminal infiltration of NSW state politics and coverage of the infamous ICAC investigations into these scandals involving senior political figures from both sides of the political spectrum provided her with all the necessary reaerch for the publication of her own work – “He Who Must be Obeid”, chronicling the influence and wheeling and dealing of the Obeid family and its patriarch Eddie Obeid.
So when the weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax carried her by-line to a story: “John Messara, It’s A Dundeel and The Championship race that is worth $4 million” with a subtext: “Power, conflict and the NSW racing industry”, it finally brought to the surface, and into the open, some very unfavourable and unsavoury speculation about decision making by key figures in NSW racing, and their supposed dealings with disgraced Ministers, politicians and business figures.
McClymont’s article is well-researched and actually boldly indulges in naming names. Some, such as Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald, are “colourful” political figures in NSW, and have been front and centre in the ICAC inquiries, which have claimed scalps on both sides of politics. Others such as shock jock Alan Jones, below, are household names in the NSW media world and wield considerable power and influence, politically.
The racing names of Darren Pearce, Lindsay Murphy and Matt Rudolph, Anthony Cummings and Ray Murrihy are NSW racing’s own household names. And Peter Vlundies, well he needs no introduction, does he?
The article details the speculation and conspiracy theories alleging that there was some sort of “inside information” involved in both the purchase of It’s A Dundeel, which was targeting the-then newly boosted $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes, elevated over the Doncaster as the feature race of the Championships – “the messiah’s ” brainchild and lovechild, and the subsequent decision to shift the rail for the meeting, and his so called “meticulous” approach to ensuring the temperamental stallion was stabled away from any potential distractions.
“The messiah’s” specific responses to the speculation and conspiracy theories surrounding It’s A Dundeel demonstrate, yet again, the inextricable link between racing and rumour, innuendo, conspiracy theories and the like, much of which, ultimately, is seen for what it is – unfounded, but with the intent being to target individuals and organizations and involving “payback” and getting even for a multitude of reasons.
As many have observed, irrespective of whether they have in their past lives held political office, racing and politics have so much in common. There are no “Chatham House” rules. They take no prisoners in racing or in politics.. The law of the jungle applies. It’s Django Revisited. It’s last man or woman standing. It’s never been different. The playground is as brutal as it gets.
But if “The messiah’s” responses to the It’s A Dundeel matters are plausible, and there is no proof to suggest otherwise, unless there is the imminent unmasking of a “smoking gun”, there are other very important aspects of the article which can only be addressed if they are properly and thoroughly investigated independently. They must be if the integrity of racing and its administration and administrators are to be preserved.
The administration and governance of racing demands the highest standards, which cannot be compromised under any circumstance. Ditto with its administrators and Boards of Management, and its Executive and Management team.
For far too long, NSW racing has been riddled with strong and highly audible and well placed rumours. There have been allegations of malpractice, and beholden to insidious influences involving a network of power brokers working together to secure their own agendas. These are said to have worked for their own benefit, and to the detriment of rivals- and to the ultimate detriment of NSW racing. It has been a “cause célèbre” for this blog since its inception.
There are lots of “dots” in Kate McClymont’s article which can be joined together to completely blow the lid off what has been simmering for a decade or more in NSW racing.
The vindictiveness and payback is still alive and well in NSW racing. That it has finally, and after all these years, found itself into print, and the on-line world, is a cause for measured reassurance that, ultimately, someone always knows “where the bodies are buried”, and given the opportunity, for whatever reason, will blow the whistle and the bodies exhumed.
Technology has blown away so many rules that there are few if any places to run to or to hide in. Communities and individuals are so much more self-empowered and willing to make choices to expose unsavoury and corrupt and criminal behaviour in society. Racing is no exception. There are no “sacred cows” in racing. Not anymore.
Ironically, the timing of the article is in itself interesting. With the focus firmly on the Championships and the valiant attempts to talk them up despite the failure- again- to attract international competitors in the numbers befitting an “international” racing carnival, Kate McClymont’s article would have been greeted with dismay by the NSW racing power brokers.
It’s one thing to indulge in rumour mongering, but when the rumours are printed in black and white and given credence and attributed to a respected investigative Journalist specializing in reporting crime, it’s a whole new ball game.
It’s hard to see how the alarm bells and sirens in Racing Minister and Deputy Premier Troy Grant’s office would not have gone off blaring and waking the quiet calm in Macquarie Street.
A Commission of Inquiry into NSW Racing is long overdue. If the State’s power brokers in Macquarie Street don’t act to appoint a properly Independent Commission of Inquiry into all aspects of NSW racing, it will live to regret it. It’s better to cauterize the wound than let it fester and develop gangrene.
There’s ample evidence in NSW of how scandals can trigger loss of confidence in Governments, and ultimately wipe them out. If even a quarter of what Kate McClymont has written and alleges is factual, then NSW Racing is in dire straits. And we don’t mean Mark Knopfler’s former band.
It goes to the heart of its integrity, and might go a long way to explaining why NSW Racing is in the dire straits that it is in, being wallpapered only by spin and expensive taxpayer-funded distractions like the Championships.
As a duly elected parliamentarian and Racing Minister and Deputy Premier, Troy Grant has a responsibility and obligation to ensure that the governance and administration of NSW Racing complies with the highest ethical standards demanded of a statutory body.
He MUST appoint an Independent Commission of Inquiry. End of story.
LUCK STRIKES THREE TIMES FOR THE LIL CAESAR GANG
Fortune favours the brave, but in racing, it’s not just restricted to those who have the fortitude or stupidity to do what the “Lil Caesar Trio” did and have got away with some very lenient penalties from Racing NSW stewards.
And yes, the Trio have separately expressed their “heartfelt” remorse for their behaviour. They’ve put their hands up and pleaded guilty to some very, very serious charges, re-paid some of the monies which were concealed from the hapless owners of Lil Caesar, have been found to have a “clean record and good character” in relation to the charges, have given “frank evidence and cooperated with the stewards”, and, in Callander and Prior’s cases, their “livelihood and the support of a young family is reliant on their roles in the racing industry”. Whew!
So Callander was issued with a six month disqualification and $10,000 fine, Prior with a six month disqualification, and Glyn Schofield a $20,000 fine. Seems like a “wet lettuce” punishment compared with what was dished out to Matt Rudolph over the Sam Kavanagh episode, doesn’t it?
When you consider the damage inflicted to the already near terminally trashed image of racing, and its brand, Callander and Prior, in particular, could be forgiven for popping the corks out of their bottles of Krug and celebrating their near death experiences with their defence team.
Not surprisingly, the rumour mill has gone into overdrive with bizarre- and not so bizarre- reasons for what has been perceived as “lenient” penalties dished out to both Callander and Prior. From what some saw as 2-3 year bans to a six month soft shoe shuffle?
The damage to racing’s image, and the impact on the Lil Caesar ownership syndicate, can best be assessed by the comments attributed to Ben Weiss and Steve Sandor, two long time friends who each owned 5% of the horse.
Quoted by our old mate ShaneO in a very good detailed interview on Racing.com, it was clear that Weiss and Sandor have lost confidence in racing. Wouldn’t you? The odour of being rorted, short changed, call it what you like, is a potent one. Okay, let’s get real here; they were two good guys who were shafted because they didn’t have the power to disagree. Would you wanna play again after being duped and taken for Mr Toad’s Wild Ride? Let’s have some justice for Ben Weiss and Steve Sandor. Racing depends on the little guys, but then chews them up and spits them out way too often.
The wider concerns from the interview with both Weiss and Sandor is the devil which is embedded inside the details.
Racing NSW stewards must surely investigate further in light of the claims made by Weiss and Sandor, and in particular, some of the very suspicious circumstances surrounding this very sordid saga about the sale to Hong Kong of a horse they were repeatedly told had “limited ability”. Think about that. Take your time.
So, a horse with “limited ability” was being sold to (naive?) Hong Kong connections for “only $220,000”, and which trainer Danny Shum, not exactly a John Size or John Moore, has miraculously – and quickly- turned into quite a nice little money earner? It really has been a Lucky Year for the Hong Kong owners. Still we ask, Does any of this make sense? Puhleeeeese.
If the Stewards are satisfied with the explanations given by Callander and Prior, then they are obligated to provide a fuller assurance that these men were the only culpable parties in this scandal. Right? No one else knew. No one else was party to “racing’s dirty little secret”. Right?
On face value, the detailed and explicit descriptions by Weiss and Sandor of the timelines and record of conversations, and emails between both parties- and the stable- raise some very uncomfortable concerns whether the Stewards have actually got to the bottom of this very serious matter, joined all the dots and identified all parties who are involved. There is more than a nagging suspicion that there is lot more to this story- and perhaps the involvement of others.
THE EXODUS CONTINUES: DAVID VANDYKE TAKES OFF TO THE SUNSHIINE STATE
It surely must be worrying the bunkered up racing hierarchy in Druitt Street with another successful trainer in David Vandyke upping his digs and moving to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. It follows hot on the heels of David Pfeiffer announcing that he is relocating his training operation to Queensland. Or maybe they simply don’t care?
What should be of concern is that both trainers have enjoyed continuing success in Sydney, and have chosen to turn their back on the lucrative prize money offered up in Sydney and the provincial circuit. Instead, they have chosen to relocate to a State whose racing industry is not only being governed in caretaker mode, but with a real possibility of a razor gang attacking their prize money to return the finances of Racing Queensland back into the black.
Vandyke made no attempt to sugar coat his reasons for leaving NSW. He pointed to the increasing dominance of NSW metropolitan and provincial racing by a small number of elite stables bulging at the seams with the “stable full” sign. And from what we are hearing, there are others who are making confidential enquiries of the Melbourne Race Clubs relating to the availability of boxes for a possible re-location.
Despite all the “spin” coming out of Racing NSW’s media mouthpiece “the daily smellygraph”, the reality is that NSW racing is continuing to drift on a downward slippery slope. Another reason for Troy Grant to intervene.
THE TALK IN WA WA LAND
Plenty of chatter in Babwa WA WA land about the proposed privatisation of the WA TAB, and some of the manoeuvring by one particular individual who has changed sides and is now in the pro-sale camp, ostensibly it appears, for what is in the “best interests of WA Racing”. Sounds very familiar, but at the same time, it also sounds very, very hollow- and shallow.
WHO’S THE BOSS?
Glen Boss has appointed Clint Hutchinson as his Racing Manager. Hutchinson, who has settled in very well on Racing.Com and is a “natural” for television, though one feels he’s being under-utilised, was one of the key members of the Hong Kong racing’s English language coverage, and is a very experienced and knowledgeable racing person. The Boss Man has made a damn good choice.