By Keyser Soze
CONFUSION GRIPS AUSTRALIAN RACING
If the current Australian political environment has left people confused and vulnerable, then Racing just might be able to help make the situation worse.
If backflips are common in politics where leaders have been known to sell their souls for the proverbial “twenty pieces of silver”, backflips are endemic in racing. But time is running out for what once was the “sport of kings”. Problem is there are few monarchies which have survived the evolution of society, and racing had better get on it’s own “Tour De France” and hit the finish line yesterday, because time has nearly run out.
The left field announcement by NSW Premier Mike Baird banning Greyhound racing in NSW from July 1 2017 has left absolutely no doubt that “big brother” is watching- and watching very, very closely. Sport is no longer immune from much-needed scrutiny relating to its capability to chart its own course of destiny. And Racing has run out of it’s “nine lives”. It had better get its act together. And faster than Black Caviar and Chautauqua put together.
Racing – its administrators, Chief Executives and Boards of Management, its participants – jockeys and trainers, in particular, have been in denial just about very aspect of the industry – its funding, its obligations to animal welfare and fundamentally its Integrity. Racing in Australia has, and still is, very much an old boy’s club, where grubby back room deals determine Board and Chief Executive appointments, contracts, the creation of bureaucratic empires and rancid cliques created and moulded to resist change and protect the self-serving agendas and protect the vested financial interests and stakes of racing’s older and middle aged versions of their own “wolves of wall street”.
There is not one single racing entity or participant who can put his or her hand on their heart and ‘fess’ up to the reality that they have no comprehension of the challenge and crisis that Australian racing is facing. The bunch of pretenders who masquerade under the title of Chairman and Chief Executive have demonstrated more impotence in decision making and as agents of real change than you would find amongst the queues of hapless patients seeking professional help in one of many Impotency clinics which have sprung up at a suburb near you.
And by their very inaction and preference for reactive responses whenever an issue arises, they are a telling indictment of the failure of Racing to be ahead of rapid changes in community thinking, values, aspirations and needs. It would be the most gross understatement that Racing has failed to connect with the community and get its message across. The reason? Racing either doesn’t have a message or does not know how to connect with the community.
To make matters worse, an almost semi-literate media pack, who sloganize and communicate is relied upon to “analyse” and deliver “informed” judgments on racing issues to the community. Is it any surprise that racing is in trouble?
Increasingly, the community, decision makers, Governments and the court of influential public opinion are concluding with alarming frequency for Australian racing, that “enough is enough”.
Take this week’s back down by Racing Australia in their stoush with the Breeders over proposed rule changes to bring Breeders effectively under the rules of racing, giving Stewards access to properties and horses to enforce compliance and monitor foals from birth to when they appear in the sales ring.
Despite the expected “faux” grandstanding by Racing Australia, the governing body has effectively caved in and rolled over to the demands of the industry “silvertails” – the breeders- and created a very dangerous precedent, which they will almost certainly regret as it will come back to haunt them any day from here onwards.
Racing Australia’s agreement to formalize a process of consultation with Breeders BEFORE any proposed introduction of a new rule or change to any existing rule is unprecedented. Do they consult with Jockeys, or Trainers when rules are introduced relating, for example, to the use of whips or medication rules BEFORE the rules are drafted? The answer is pretty damn obvious.
Racing Australia, like every other State Governing Body, is completely out of touch with the industry it supposedly governs. And ominously, Governments are on to it. Is it any wonder that Governments at the State and Federal level are introducing their own legislation on racing matters, blindsiding racing administrators, frequently without consultation? If this is not an indictment on the competence of these bodies and their administrators, then nothing is.
The record of Racing Governing Bodies on animal welfare and the issue of whips is a masterclass in how not to manage issues and crises. Admittedly, they have not been helped by the Jockeys Association, who, like the administrators, are trapped in their own complete time warp, totally out of touch with modern society and its values. The Jockeys Associations with their almost militant union mentality of achieving an “untouchable” status for their members are still coming to grips with the reality that this is the 21st century, and that the sooner they demonstrate leadership and craft an exit strategy for whips, the better – for racing and for their members. If the Jockeys Association wants a fight, well there’s always the UFC.
Leadership has been and still is Australian Racing’s albatross. Australian Racing lacks the leadership to achieve much-needed bipartisan agreement on some of the most fundamental issues derailing its progress and modernization.
Does anyone really believe that whips will continue to be used in races in the next decade? Anyone believe that Jumps racing will be around in the next decade? Is Racing capable of making its own decision on these issues, or does it want someone external to intervene and make such decisions? Does Australian Racing really want to control its own destiny? Or does it really believe that it lacks the capability or the balls to do so?
LOSING THE BATTLE FOR RESPECT
Despite its role and history of pioneering the policing of its sport going way back to early in the last century, Horse Racing’s recent history in maintaining, protecting and advancing its integrity, which it bangs on about ad nauseum, is well behind what the community and society demands of sport and its participants in the 21st century.
Beset by scandal after scandal ranging across a raft of critical areas at the heart of the integrity of the sport – race fixing, the administration of illegal and sinister performance drugs, a growing perception and reality of criminal involvement, and an inability to address and resolve lingering animal welfare issues, Australian racing is fighting an increasingly losing battle to maintain its dignity and respect.
In a gambling environment of rampant deregulation, where sports betting on all imaginable sporting contests has challenged the once innocent and pristine psyche of sport, and, importantly, supporters, what was de rigueur just a decade ago is no longer.
Where cricket, the AFL, the NRL and just about every other popular mainstream sport is moving with Black Caviar and Usain Bolt like speed to “clean up” their sports and exorcise the demons in the Integrity of their sports, Racing finds itself marooned on an island of irrelevance with no life raft in sight.
Racing will engage in its all-too-familiar response mechanism when challenged by serious drug positives, race fixing and any other form of activity which is criminal with mind numbing clichés that it has a successful track record in the detection and laying of charges and in flushing out the crooked elements in the sport. But does it? Why then are the drug cheats and race fixers continuing to “push the envelope” with a degree of almost self-confident impunity?
And why does Racing tolerate what resembles a continuing “death by a thousand cuts” inflicted by its own licensed persons, and by those bound by the rules of racing?
Consider the recent AFL imposed penalty- an $80,000 fine on the coach of one of its18 Clubs for denigrating an umpire. Contrast the continuing flagrant character assassination of racing officials, stewards and the Governing Body itself, recently in Victoria, by a raft of licensed persons and those within the ambit of the rules of racing. In racing, apparently it’s fair game. Not so in the AFL, or in the NRL, or in Cricket, or in Soccer and, hopefully soon, in Tennis.
Should racing tolerate the bottom feeders who resort to full frontal public and social media attacks on the “umpires” of its sport, its veterinarians, its administrators, Board members and the like?
Contrast how Racing allows itself to dragged through the public sewers with this sort of anarchic behaviour and conduct with the investigation underway into alleged match fixing in the NRL and the call for life bans on players and officials if found guilty of match fixing with the added caveat of facing possible criminal proceedings against those involved either inside or outside the sport.
No, there is no comparison. Match fixers, drug cheats and criminals are treated like the pariahs, which they are, and face banishment from the sport. FOREVER. If racing does not get the message and literally throw the book at the drug cheats and match fixers, and the fraudulent unlicensed high profile “bloodstock” agents who need to be excluded from the industry for their behaviour, then it is only a matter of a very short time before it is forced to do so. And allowing stablehands to escape with a $1000 fine for questioning the competence of Stewards, and impose lenient penalties for social media abuse of stewards by Owners must attract penalties that are a deterrent. It is the only pathway for Racing to regain the respect which it has lost. And again before change is forced on it.
MARK VAN GESTEL OFF TO A FLYING START IN NSW
It’s been a long time coming, and not before time. Sydney’s new Chief Steward Mark Van Gestel has not wasted time in reading the riot act to Sydney jockeys. They have been put on notice that they have to lift their game. If they don’t give their mounts every reasonable chance to win, and the hapless connections and punters the chance to get a proper run for their money, then they can expect to be hauled in and be penalized. And harshly, as Blake Shinn found out recently. Whilst there was no suggestions of impropriety in Shinn’s ride on Thud, the Stewards, headed by Van Gestel, conducted an entirely appropriate inquiry into the run and the ride by Shinn and handed him a one month penalty.
Van Gestel clearly understands that racing must not only be clean, but it must also be seen to be clean. And that is at the heart of the Integrity of racing. Mistakes cannot and should not continue to be tolerated in racing. They have been done for far too long.
For too long, dubious alibis which would not cut the mustard in civil jurisdictions are rewarded with “feather duster” penalties.
Van Gestel’s next stop should be the blatant form reversals by horses from some of Sydney’s leading stables, which are often responded to with the familiar alibi: “The horse might have trained off, he might need a spell”. He might also keep an eye on betting moves on horses from stables with multiple runners in a race. One particular stable has a worrying habit of producing the second, third or lesser elect in a race into the winner’s yard. And you guessed it, there’s always an alibi.
The clampdown on racing’s untouchables in NSW has not been confined to intensifying the scrutiny of the running of races as Kathy O’Hara- and we’re fans of Kathy- is now acutely aware of. Her use of her mobile phone on multiple occasions within the confines of a restricted area – the scales precinct on race day- and her subsequent attempts to play down her breach were, basically, nothing short of laughable. Again, it is all about perception and not about innocence.
When will some of these grossly over-glamourized members of the Australian jockeys fraternity realize that they are stakeholders in the racing industry and have a critical role to play in contributing to upholding the brand, image and integrity of the industry that puts food on their tables, and allows them the lifestyle that they enjoy?
The appointment of Elliot Forbes to the position of Chief Executive of Racing Queensland is much-needed evidence that administrators in the Sunshine State have finally got a decision right. To be fair, the new Board of Racing Queensland is in its infancy, and has a herculean task to repair the dysfunctional mess that it has inherited, as well as operate in a toxic political environment where the two major political parties have used racing as a political football over many decades.
Elliot Forbes has navigated the basket case that is Tasmanian racing prior to his new appointment, with skill and dexterity. The focus will now firmly be on Tasmanian racing’s ability to recruit a suitable replacement to manage and administer an industry that is not only under intense challenge to survive, but a basket case as well.
On the subject of Chief Executive appointments, much to our surprise, and to many in Australian racing, the soon to be out of work Racing Victoria CEO Bernard Saundry is said to be set to continue his executive role in the industry. Perhaps the Board of Tasmanian racing should sound him out for the role? Or even a role with Living Legends, the home for some of the great champions of the turf?
So the threshold limit for cobalt in Australian racing has finally been lowered to 100 micrograms per litre of urine, in line with most international racing jurisdictions. It is long overdue. It exposes the humbug and mistruths peddled by a handful of Trainers with “form” in this area, along with their loud mouthed legal representatives and social media cheer squads questioning veterinary science on the subject.