By Keyser Soze
RIDE GUIDE RIDES OFF INTO THE SUNSET…
Try as hard as they might to “spin” their way out of it, those associated with the Ride Guide have a public relations disaster on their hands. Individually and collectively, its creator Chris Symons, their sponsorship brokerage company Unscriptd, and the Jockeys Association appear to have botched their process of negotiating an outcome which would have benefitted the entire racing community – the Governing Bodies Racing NSW and Racing Victoria, wagering operators including the tote operator Tabcorp and the corporate bookmaking sector, Owners and Trainers ( Remember them?), and last but certainly not the least – the Punter, who ultimately puts the food on the tables of every stakeholder in Australian racing.
Ultimately, the NSW and Victorian Stewards made the only sensible and rational decision available to them and banned the Ride Guide from becoming a reality. For once, they acted swiftly. For the Ride Guide to ever become a reality it would need major open heart surgery. It would also require Symons, Unscriptd, the Jockeys Association and it’s “man for all causes” in Des O’Keefe to acknowledge their arrogance in not properly consulting the Owners and Trainers Bodies. Duh. And double Duh, Einsteins.
Take the Owners and Trainers out of the equation and there would be no racing industry. And there would be several hundred Jockeys- Australia wide- joining the Centrelink dole queues and registering for the welfare handout that is the dole.
The Chairman of the Victorian Owners Association Jonathan Munz nailed it brilliantly. It was golf’s hole in one, and a Serena Williams’ ace: “The jockeys have in the past moaned about the lack of consultation from racing authorities on various issues, but then they go and pull this stuff without consulting with owners,” he told both The Age and the Melbourne Herald Sun. “It’s very disappointing. As the stewards have noted, much of the information the jockeys are seeking to disclose and get an earn on belongs to and is sourced from owners and their trainers. The jockeys are getting information and riding horses in work as part of the process of contracting to owners and trainers to ride their horses in races. It is a major cheek to then try and sell that information and not even have the manners to discuss it with us first. If information is going to be disclosed to punters by participants, everyone should get it and it needs to be transparent. We as a industry have also paid a fortune to establish a multimedia strategy based around Racing.com to promote racing and participants such as jockeys have an obligation to support that.
The outing by Patrick Bartley from Fairfax Media in the Age newspaper on Wednesday of a financial deal negotiated between Chris Symons, Unscriptd and Ladbrokes for a supposed $2.4 Million handout for the Ride Guide is evidence that there’s several Gordon Geckos alive and well in the Jockeys ranks. If the reported financial windfall to the jockeys is correct- and there have been no denials- then it completely vindicates Munz’s stand on the Ride Guide.
It begs the very obvious and critical question as to why Symons and his crew did not formally consult their counterparts from the owners and Trainers bodies, and critically, why they did not come clean about the reported $2.4 million windfall, which, presumably, they were going to feast on themselves? It has an odour about it, doesn’t it?
Put bluntly, the lack of consultation is a downright insult to Owners and Trainers. As is the blatant attempt to pocket the entire proceeds from a financial deal which would have zero value without the input of the Owners and Trainers.
Apart from the track work role, which these days is so often carried out by track riders, the REAL knowledge about a horse lies with the Trainer, who has a 24/7 role and responsibility for the horses which they train. The whole Ride Guide fiasco smacks of extremely avaricious and inexcusable behaviour. Put further into perspective, Jockeys are employees of the Owners and Trainers and are paid for their services – handsomely- unlike many if not all other participants and employees in racing.
Curiously we also heard both Chris Symons and Des O’Keefe refer to IP aka “intellectual property” (for the benefit of many in the jockey ranks) for jockeys with a veiled reference to legal advice being sought. IP, intellectual property? We wonder whether both Symons and O’Keefe are fully cognisant of and understand what it is?
O’Keefe’s attempts to save face and salvage the damage from this failed saga even morphed into getting him completely tangled in a proverbial tongue tie when interviewed by Michael Felgate on RSN when he tried to explain away his reported comments to the Herald Sun following the rejection of the Ride Guide. “It makes me wonder what else is going on in the world of racing politics that has led us to where we find ourselves today”.
Racing Politics, Desmundo? You’re well versed in it, if your public commentary on every issue involving jockeys is any guide. Was it a long bow which you drew to bring whatever issue you might have with Racing Australia and muddy the already contaminated waters even further? Conspiracy theories, perhaps? A bit of advice mate: When you’re in a hole stop digging. And enough of this “if I can’t win I won’t play” attitude which does not even belong in a kindergarten schoolyard.
BRODIE ARNHOLD: RACING’S VERY OWN FAWLTY TOWERS…
Outside Melbourne racing circles, he is “Brodie Who?” Perhaps it might have been better if it stayed that way for the beleaguered Chief Executive of the Melbourne Racing Club (MRC), Brodie Arnhold, after his alleged mind-numbing throwaway line during a Peter Moody familiar blast at Racing Victoria officialdom at a charity function on Wednesday night at Melbourne’s infamous racing pub – the Emerald Hotel.
The Age newspaper’s Patrick Bartley reported that suspended trainer Peter Moody told guests at the function he would not work as a trainer under Chief Steward Terry Bailey and head of Integrity Dayle Brown, at which point Arnhold allegedly interjected “We can fix that”. Bartley reported further that Arnhold denied the allegation and said that any suggestion he did not support Bailey and Brown were ridiculous.
Over recent years, sections of the Melbourne Racing Club Committee and its hierarchy have acquired a notoriety for their gung ho, wild west approach to dealing with issues. While the MRC has been bold in many of their initiatives, and their Chairman Mike Symons unafraid in stepping on toes that need to be stepped on, there is a sense of arrogance about the culture of the Club in adopting a crash through or crash mentality. Arnhold’s alleged “Mr Fixit” moment smacks of what is the norm in third world dictatorial third world political systems, where strong arm tactics are used to “fix things up”. These days, it could even be applied to America- and the thuggery in American politics.
Brodie Arnhold’s lack of judgment in choosing to attend an event where “Industry bashers” were conspicuous in their numbers, and Moody would have been expected to continue to trot out his tiresome, cliché ridden bitter, and often personalized tirade at officialdom, exposes some glaring weaknesses, which regrettably, are all too frequently in the DNA of many Australian racing executives. The Melbourne Racing Club now faces an uphill battle to win a crucial ballot next weekend on extending the terms of Mike Symons and some of his senior Committee members. Brodie Arnhold’s alleged injudicious behaviour is going to make winning the ballot tough going. Great timing.
If that wasn’t enough scandal in Victorian racing’s weekly soap opera and successful attempts at trashing its brand and image, enter- oh dear god no- Victorian Chief Steward Terry Bailey into the fray.
While it is clear that the relentless personal vindictive and venomous attacks and baseless rumours about his personal life would have tested the resolve of some of the mentally toughest humans in society, last Wednesday’s events penetrated Bailey’s tough steely resolve. So much so that Bailey allowed himself to descend into the gutter that has become the home of some of his vociferous critics. Bailey made some extremely injudicious and provocative comments, which, in itself, could have booked him a date with the Victorian Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board.
The bigger issue is how Bailey has been allowed to continually front the media to explain and defend every Integrity issue and policy. It happens in NO other sport – the NRL, Cricket, AFL, Rugby Union, Soccer, Tennis and even backyard tiddlywinks. The role of the umpire, referee, steward- in fact any person who officiates in sport- is confined strictly to the sports field, and in this instance, the racetrack. Integrity Policy issues and commentary are the domain of the Chief Executive or a very senior member of the management team. Terry Bailey is neither. Dare we say it, the Chief Executive of Racing Victoria is Bernard Saundry, and we say his name in as an inaudible whisper for fear of embarrassment. Saundry, aka “the Plodder” should be the one face and voice of Victorian racing in his supposed leadership position. He isn’t.
Victorian racing has to wait four and a half long months before he parachutes out of his role. To use a political analogy from the time Bob Hawke successfully challenged Bill Hayden for leadership of the Labour Party and led it to victory, even the proverbial “drover’s dog” could do a better job in Victoria.
As for Dayle brown, the Head of the Integrity Department, it is difficult to find anyone in the Victorian racing hierarchy who actually knows what he does. As Bailey’s boss and together with “The Plodder” you would think that they could go down to the nearest livestock store and buy themselves a muzzle to apply to their Chief Steward. Then again Fear is the most potent weapon in racing. And in life for that matter.
It must have taken Ministerial intervention in conjunction with Racing Victoria Chairman David Moodie to do a “Henry Kissinger” and bring Arnhold, his Chairman Mike Symons and Bailey into the one room and extract the usual meaningless apologies from each other and swear the usual oaths to “love, honour and obey each other, until death do us part”. If it sounds hollow, it is because it is. But the damage has already been done.
Is it any wonder Australian, and in particular, Victorian racing is the laughing stock of world racing? And yes, we can hear the laughter all the way from the remotest corners of the two hemispheres- and even from outer space.
GOING THE EARLY CROWE?
What’s in a name? Well, if it’s Ben Crowe, it makes things somewhat interesting and a bit like Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon. We’re not too sure if they’re the same person, but there’s Ben Crowe with Unscriptd, the “global media” company behind the production of what was “Ride Guide”. There also was a Ben Crowe who was with Nike in Hong Kong, and who moved on to work for the HKJC in Marketing around fifteen years ago. The same Ben Crowe? If so, he’s been a busy boy, Watson, and a name to follow moving forward.
On the subject of “Ride Guide”, we have nothing against jockey Chris Symons whose brainchild was this programming idea. It must be a tough pill to swallow to work on an idea for so long, and then have it turned down as a non-starter by some who initially gave it a passing grade.
The feeling here is that the association or partnership with a reputable name like Ladbrokes- but Ladbrokes being a reputable bookmaker- was the Out Clause that those who once gave “Ride Guide” the two toes up needed to quickly leave the party. Par for the course stuff when, apparently, there was nothing approved in writing Verbal agreements? Hot air.
Whether a rabid self-promoter or not, Chris Symons has, at least, brought some creativity to horse racing in Australia, and has given it a sense of humour that it dearly needs. But just as Tay Tay and Kimye are finding out, social media is a strange and fickle beast. Overkill has headed off many things at the pass and has seen sudden switches of allegiance.
Though having never met Chris Symons, it’s obvious that here’s someone with probably a new idea every day. This has its pluses and negatives. Very often, constantly serving up a buffet of ideas becomes too much to stomach. It’s overkill.
Suddenly, it all starts to sound the same to one’s audience, especially those with a limited attention span. And racing has many of this species. To them, it’s humouring the boy who cried wolf one too many times, and his words and presentations fall on deaf ears. Those who should be listening as they’re the decision makers have nodded off. And when there are bibs and bobs leaked to social media, the genie is out of the bottle and all hell breaks loose. The original story tends to become lost in clutter, saving one’s arse, and selective memory recall. And this just might be why “Right Guide” became the wrong guide? And let’s stop the defensive mutterings about “politics” and “IPs”.
A question of content…
How many in horse racing, where bona fide content is extremely limited, really understand Intellectual Copyright laws, and what content can actually be copyrighted, especially in the online world? Add to this, what names can be Registered and Trademarked for the world? And the costs involved for all of the above?
As we have said here many times, long before horse racing can enter the much bigger world of sports entertainment with sponsors and mega management and talent agencies like AEG and ICM, its executives need to at least be aware of what constitutes “content” and who owns what and why and if there’s even a market for any of this. And for this to happen, racing clubs need a completely different organisation structure and a new team of much more creative executives working with original content providers, which is not the case today. But be careful: Tomorrow, these days, can be a click away and the mouse can roar.
JAMES MCDONALD IN THE UK PERMANENTLY?IT’S JUST A MATTER OF TIME…
More success a weekend ago for James McDonald in the UK with a treble at the feature Newmarket race meeting. What was planned as a short working holiday taking in Ascot and some extra race meetings post-Ascot, turned into an extended stay when one of Godolphin’s contracted riders, William Buick, was handed a lengthy suspension and the royal blue colours of the Dubai-based powerhouse provided McDonald, their Australian contracted jockey, with the opportunity to fill the temporary void caused by Buick’s suspension.
It’s an opportunity which McDonald has grasped with all his riding gear and more. He’s on show in front of his big bosses and he’s out to impress. And he has. From what we hear his strike rate is making some very nervous. They should be.
James McDonald, arguably one of Australia’s best though some of his losses on hot pots in the land down under made him the butt of many Hamburglar and Ronald McDonald jokes, has not taken long to establish himself as one of the elite of his profession. In the UK, he is riding against the best, and often jumping aboard horses he is unfamiliar with, and for trainers he knows little about. Perhaps this was the impetus he needed to get his mojo back. After all, you know what they say about familiarity. It’s obvious that in the UK, “Jimmy Mac” is “Big Mac” and lovin’ it over there.
The question now is not whether he will be returning to the UK, but when. He is Godolphin’s contracted jockey in Australia, and the Godolphin stable in Australia is struggling, to say the least, in churning out the steady stream of Group and black type winners to fit into their elite black type stallion making and broodmare model. In a recent interview on the Dead People’s station, he made light of the “When” question put to him by Michael Felgate. But it was almost a non-committal answer, or at least one where he certainly seems to be keeping his options open.
Godolphin will inevitably revisit their one contracted trainer model which they operate under in Australia. It would be a surprise if they did not implement their multi-trainer model which they operate under in both the UK and France. When they do, it is likely that James McDonald will be part of their contracted jockeys team in Europe. Bet on it.
OOPS, HE’S DONE IT AGAIN!
A sad reflection on life is that there are some who never learn and are beyond redemption. Like the serial bad boy in the Victorian jockey ranks who considers himself above the law in everything he does and is presently- and probably forever, persona non grata in Australian racing. It appears that a little over a week ago at a hotel in Melbourne after a short stop in the loo for some nose candy, he turned on a fellow high profile jockey who tried to do the right thing and help the bad boy leave like a good boy. He’s beyond hope.
Let’s just hope that the very talented young jockey who idolises him and sees him as The King Of Cool comes to his senses and stops trying to follow in some very dodgy footsteps. One is judged by the company they keep, and this is no Butch and Sundance. This is a one-way ticket to oblivion.