30 November 2005

"Racing is crook?" Say it isn't so!

Craig Young in the SMH fails spectacularly to mince words: "Racing is crook. On all fronts. The AJC-STC pairing and Racing NSW are at each others' throats. This cat fight is about who is in charge? At this point in time, many can be forgiven for thinking no one is calling the shots." Read what Stinger really thinks.

"A f---ing idiot" and "a grub"

"Trainer Alan Scorse was fined $1500 yesterday by Racing NSW stewards when found guilty of improper conduct towards provincial steward Steve Carvosso at the Newcastle barrier trials on November 21. During the inquiry it was alleged Scorse had called Carvosso 'a f---ing idiot' and 'a grub'." reports the SMH:

29 November 2005

The little red list

"They are a menace to the industry with their abysmal history of no pays." One of scores of reviews from the Bookmakers Review's handy Red List of no-go online betting sites. Aquaint yourself with practices and dubious reputations of the current crop of online gaming opportunists and scammers.

28 November 2005

Daring Dettori defies all in Japan Cup

"Alkaased rewrote a race record that had stood for 16 years, topping the New Zealand mare Horlick's time of 2 minutes, 22.2 seconds by one-tenth of a second." The Japan Times Online

"I cannot believe it,’’ Dettori told Racing Post. 'It means a huge amount to me to win this race for Luca Cumani. He started me off, and we had eight great years together. He molded me and taught me what to do and say. The fact that I am here talking to you is due to him. He is mainly responsible for it.’’ Thoroughbred Times

"On account of Alkaased being trained in Newmarket by Luca Cumani, he goes down in the record books as Britain's first victor since Pilsudski in 1997, though the horse himself was bred in the USA and both trainer and jockey are Italian."
The Guardan

"The 2003 winner Tap Dance City set a furious pace with Stormy Cafe early on as the pair pulled four lengths clear of the field. Tap Dance City turned for home with a three-length lead, but was swallowed up by the pack... Alkaased took a narrow lead in the final furlong and held on to take victory in [world] record time." BBC Horse Racing:

27 November 2005

Who needs real horses?

Tabcorp is taking its animated horse racing product to one of the world's biggest lottery markets:
"Racetrax™ was successfully field tested earlier this year in Maryland, gaining an enthusiastic reception from players in all venues. The game has already been a hit in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Croatia and Canada and is also available through Tabcorp wagering venues in Victoria, Australia. 'We are pleased to be entering the American gaming market with Racetrax™,' said Paul Gulbenkian, Executive General Manager of Tabcorp International... The Maryland Lottery produced record sales of US$1.486 billion in fiscal 2005..."
Meanwhile, Pimilico, Maryland's most famous racetrack and home of the Preakness, is cutting back on race meetings, unable to compete with "the slots". Sound familiar?

24 November 2005

Beijing's thoroughbred slaugherhouse

The Independent reports on the emerging scandal out of Beijing: "About 600 healthy thoroughbreds are reported to have been slaughtered in the past month in the Chinese capital as a consequence of the official reluctance by the Communist Party to tolerate gambling." The Guardian quotes an anonymous source: "They have culled 600 to date, 400 racehorses and 200 mares. It is an open secret here. They are being culled by injection in humane fashion." Racing director, Kevin Connolly, said: "All the horses have not been culled. We normally cull at the end of each season, retired and injured horses, mares that have not conceived for a number of seasons etc, the same as most places. Should racing start again we will have more than enough horses to race."

Betfair: Chief Stipes say BF mars integrity

The Melbourne Herald Sun today reports that "chairman of stewards from around Australia have urged the Tasmanian Government to defer the betting exchange legislation, which today goes before the Upper House."
"In a joint statement, the stewards claim the proposed legislation does not take probity arrangements on racing to new levels as Lennon claims."
The stipes didn't mince words: "Betting exchanges, by their very nature, create a fundamental challenge to the integrity of racing," in that they allow punters to porfit from backing a losing horse.

17 November 2005

HK racing on the slide

International Herald Tribune reports that in Hong Kong there is a "popular saying, 'horses will continue racing and legs will go on dancing.' It is often used to convey that Hong Kong will remain unchanged and prosperous despite its return to China eight years ago. But for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, big changes are already coming as racing revenues have tumbled."

Police rule out Betfair probe

The Age reports: "Police will not investigate claims Tasmanian Racing Minister Jim Cox offered jockeys money for their support of Betfair."
Opposition politicians had been calling for an inquiry since the allegation surfaced last Thursday - the latest Labor gaffe that could threaten Betfair's chances of Upper House approval.

Premier Paul Lennon had already admitted he and Mr Cox accepted Melbourne Cup hospitality from the Packer family's Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL) just two days before announcing Tasmania's intention to licence the company's joint venture with the UK-based Betfair.

The revelations outraged opposition politicians but did not prevent Betfair's smooth sailing through Tasmania's Labor-dominated Lower House.

15 November 2005

Racing's split video personality

The broadcast video rights war has cost the NSW industry AUD6.5 million in the six months to November 6, 2005, reports Racing NSW CEO Peter V'Landys. Nice work guys.

14 November 2005

US scene shaken by doping

Greg Wood in The Guardian chronicles the odor coming from across the pond: "Richard Dutrow Jr, who saddled a double in the Sprint and the Classic with Silver Train and Saint Liam, lost his licence for 60 days earlier this year, following a positive test for mepivacaine in 2003, and another for clenbuterol a year later. Add in the high-profile proceedings currently underway against Gregory Martin, who trained at Aqueduct in New York until earlier this year, and doping has been a key theme of the latest racing year in the States. Martin was arrested by federal agents in January, and has been charged with doping and race-fixing. A number of individuals linked to the Gambino crime family also face charges."

Favourite flop laid for a motza

Melbourne stipes have taken an interest in the dissapointing run of short priced favourite Vengo at Sandown on Saturday, AAP reports
"Chief steward Des Gleeson said around $70,000 was laid on the Lee Freedman-trained galloper including $30,000 from one account holder. 'It was a significant amount of money and that is always a concern,' Gleeson said. "

12 November 2005

Betfair: Tassie opens floodgates

The Australian reports that "mainland state governments are demanding federal action to outlaw online betting exchanges, after Tasmania revealed it would consider granting further licences to more than one operator."

Love it or leave it?

"The conduct of senior harness racing steward Ron Bottle is under investigation following allegations during a recent stewards inquiry of an affair between him and a relative of a Newcastle-based trainer-driver.
"Bottle took over as acting chief stipe of harness racing last year after the sensational sackings of former boss Roger Nebauer and senior steward Paul Archer after they were spotted socialising with then disqualified trainer-driver Peter Morris," reports The Herald's John Schell.

11 November 2005

'Foolhardy' Callow drops a gorilla

"'What were you thinking? That is one of the more foolhardy things I have seen on a racecourse,' Gleeson said," before fining jockey Noel Callow a gorilla for his past the post display of cavalier theatrics after Our Smoking Joe won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington on Saturday.

09 November 2005

Jockey banned seven years

"Jockeys are not allowed to bet on other horses in a race that they are riding in."

Diva debate descends into debasement

"'You are a nark,' she declared in answer to Whittaker's assessment of Makybe Diva," relates Max Presnell.

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

An American is jealous of the race that stops a nation: "Last weekend at Belmont Park, we witnessed the “World Thoroughbred Championships” but it was a 7-year-old mare a half a world away to put horse racing on the international map... It is extremely unlikely that horse racing ever again will be what it was in the 1930s and ‘40s, a time when college football and not the NFL ruled the gridiron, and when great prizefighters appeared on a magically small 10-inch box in black and white every Friday night. Because sometimes change is not good."

Mateship counts for nothing

"Best Mate's trainer Henrietta Knight will appeal against a £1,000 fine she incurred for the 'non-trying' of one of her horses at Towcester on Thursday," reports the BBC. Stewards ruled the Knight-trained 9-4 chance Harringay had been "tenderly ridden" when finished fifth, beaten 13 and a half lengths in a novice hurdle.

Rules are rules, except when they're broken

"When Boss and rival Steven King touched while pulling their mounts up after the winning post in the Cup, they also broke the same Australian Racing rule," says Melbourne Chief Steward Des Gleeson. "We'll certainly be speaking to (Boss) about it. He knows the rule and the time to celebrate is after the weigh-in."

07 November 2005

Truce imminent in broadcast rights war?

The Age hints at resolution in the deadlock between rival racing broadcasters, ThoroughVisioN and Sky Channel: "Cracks have appeared in the ranks at TVN with some (believed to be 37.5 per cent) of the shareholders actively pushing for a deal to be struck with Sky Channel, which is owned by Tabcorp, to get the pictures of Melbourne, Victorian country and Sydney metropolitan races all around Australia through both TVN and Sky Channel," writes Andrew Eddy.

06 November 2005

Piggott: septugenarian hoop

The Observer has marked the seventieth birthday of Lester Piggot by repinting this classic interview with the gifted conveyer of winners and controversy. Here's a teaser:
"There's two sides to a horse. In the natural state his speed is what keeps him alive - if there's danger, he runs. But he lives in a herd and even when he's running away from danger, he doesn't like to be first: he likes to be in the middle of the herd.

"So in racing, in one way you're taking the horse back to his nature, and in another you're training him and riding him to do something different from what nature intended. I think it's what gives them their character. Because horses are very interesting. There's no two alike. And of course nature taught a horse to run, but not to be ridden. So there's the relationship between the horse and the man on his back.

"...but I don't pay much attention. I think you only pay attention if you care about what people think of you. And you only care if you think a lot about yourself. I don't think about myself much. I think about racing. I don't brood about how I look to other people. I ride as well as I can, and they can clap or boo - it's all the same to me."

04 November 2005

MC: UK cup runner was "lame before the race"

In a story on the beaten international raiders for this year's cup, Sporting Life reports that British Cup entry Franklin Gardens went "lame a few days before the race" that stops a nation. The revelation comes too late for the punters that backed the horse only to see it run a bad last to Makybe Diva on Tuesday. The racing daily reports that "injuries beset the European Cup challenge this year, with Godolphin sending home their main hopes, Carte Diamond receiving a bad cut, Franklins Gardens going lame a few days before the race and Collier Hill also missing out." And Distinction pulled up so poorly after the event, it "will have a full body scan when it returns to Britain later this week".

Betfair gets green light in Tasmania

Tasmania will become the first Australian state to license online betting exchange Betfair under an agreement announced in Hobart today, announced Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon in a statement. Legislation to license and operate Betfair in Australia will be introduced to the Tasmanian Parliament next week. Tasmania will earn 35 per cent of Betfair's gross profit on all Australian racing events, 15 per cent of the profits on other sporting events and 10 per cent of the profits on international events. The State Government will retain five per cent from each category as tax revenues and distribute the rest to the racing industry, through Tote Tasmania. Lennon was at pains to demonstrate that the agreement was underwritten by an "unprecedented new set of probity arrangements" to avoid any shenanigans.

Betfair: Tasmanian argy bargy

"Whilst another state, Tasmania, is likely to licence Betfair, we're not happy with that situation, of course; it's not something that we approve. We will not be licencing Betfair in Victoria. "
- Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks

'If [Betfair] wager on the Victorian product, they will be doing so illegally. And with a home base in Tasmania from which a prosecution can be launched.'"
- Racing Victoria chief executive Robert Nason

"Why don't we be clever for a change and look after the customers and issue about half a dozen exchange licences and give them a go? It's a winning formula for the punter and for everyone. It's here to stay, they can't beat it."
- Melbourne bookie MIchael Eskander

"...this issue is squarely about the integrity of racing - our capacity to run the sport in a way that the public has confidence in its integrity. It is an unshakeable fact that the presence of betting exchanges undermines this. The easy facility to make money out of horses losing is an undeniable temptation to cheat."
- Chairman of the Australian Racing Board Andrew Ramsden

"Kerry Packer's PBL rose 47¢ to $16.51 after news that the Tasmanian government has approved a deal to license the British online betting agency Betfair. The announcement ended eight months of speculation about the 50-50 joint venture between Betfair and PBL."
- Australian Financial Review

"I think the concept of being able to back horses to lose races has no place in Australian racing with the enormous prizemoney on offer for connections to win racing,"
- RV chief steward Des Gleeson

Bent but anonymous

Martin Hannah of The Scotsman thinks some things are chaeper left unsaid: "The point is that, while I consider the jockey to be a disgrace to his profession, either because he is bent or because he merely gave his horse a totally dreadful ride, I am not allowed to tell you his name because of the laws of defamation, or libel as it is known in England and Wales."

Fallon bailed until next March

"Forty-eight hours after he'd enjoyed the greatest day of his career when notching a hat-trick of Group 1 successes at Longchamp, Kieron Fallon was taken into custody for questioning following his appearance at a London police station to answer his bail as part of the on-going investigation into alleged race-fixing," reports The Scotsman.

03 November 2005

MC: Gallant Vinnie bows out

"I was very concerned for that 30 seconds or a minute after I got off him," Patrick Smullen said. "He was very distressed. I was worried for him, (but) it was a combination of a very, very hot day, trying so hard and carrying top weight." Trainer Dermot Weld "was philosophical in defeat and revealed the four-times Irish St Leger winner has probably ran his last race. 'He'll most likely be retired to Coolmore now,' said the County Kildare handler. 'We've done best of the Europeans, but he was out wide and could never really get in.'"

MC: Bookies spared bloodbath

"A huge betting move on Japanese visitor Eye Popper ($8 to $6) and very good money for Leica Falcon ($6 to $5.50) and English raider Distinction ($31 to $26) helped balance bookies' bags," says the Melbourne Herald Sun.

MC: Hawkes slams the "Makybe Cup"

This year's post-mortem on the Melbourne Cup features widespread criticism of the VCR committee for accomodating the ultimate winner, Makybe Diva and international campaigner, Vinnie Roe by watering the track to their liking before the big race. Patrick Smith in The Australian pulled no punches: "To watch VRC and Racing Victoria officials scurry about the international connections it is easy to perceive they are cared for more than some of the locals. And to see the club's man in charge of strategic marketing, Dr Stephen Silk, hurry about with Makybe Diva badges it is just as easy to perceive some locals are better treated than others."

And losing bookmaker Michael Eskander was also scathing in his criticism:
"The VRC has a lot to answer for. Where is their integrity? Their actions have tarnished Australia's great race. Makybe Diva is a great horse and her connections have worked hard and deserve their win, but this will go down in history as a victory that was willingly aided and abetted by the VRC."

Rival trainers John Hawkes (Railings), Gai Waterhouse (Mr Celebrity) and Richard Freyer (Leica Falcon) and the connections of Japanese entry Eye Popper, all complained over the decision to water the track to a reading of dead.

"I thought it was the Melbourne Cup, not the Makybe Cup," said Hawkes.

02 November 2005

MC: Best Cup form guide

TVNZ have produced the best potted form guide on the net for the 2005 Melbourne Cup.

MC: Johnny Fontaine never gets that movie

AAP reports that "a severed horse's head has been used by protesters demonstrating against horse racing on Melbourne Cup day."

MC: Hyperbole wins the 2005 Melbourne Cup

A better-than-average two mile handicap was run in Melbourne today. A better-than-average field lined up against a champion mare who defied history and the record books to win it for the third time running, an unheralded achievement. It was a statistical impossibility, but as cliches go, records are made to be broken.

But please, Makybe Diva is not the greatest horse we've ever seen, even in the modern era.

Winning three Cups in a row, the last with a weight and age carrying record for a mare is exceptional, freakish and a great yarn. But comparisons with Phar Lap are sheer lunacy and merely the stuff of Spring Carnival hyperbole. Such speculation is all about selling the event, because the Melbourne Cup is the one time of the year that the horse racing game gets to dominate the attention of the media, and the one time of year that the racing media get a national audience. There is a tendency to purple prose to say the least. Every year must produce its big story, only this year the story wrote itself, no argument. But let's indulge in some more contemporary comparisons to put this in achievement in context.

Makybe Diva was again dominant today, but being the best horse on the day three times running doesn't mean she would she have beaten, for instance, Saintly in 1996 (for ours the best Cup winner of the past ten years), or Let's Elope in 1991. Put the mare up against Vintage Crop in 1993 and we know where the smart money goes. Makybe Diva is certainly one of the best horses to grace the turf in the past decade, she is today's champion racehorse, but is she better than Sunline? We say no. Let's segue to previous W.S. Cox Plate winners. Where would the mare have run against Dulcify or Kingston Town or Bonecrusher or Octagonal or Lohnro? Kingston Town's three Cox Plates beats the Diva's three Cups hands down in our book.

After the Cox Plate this year trainer Lee Freedman said: "I don't think this country has seen a better horse over the past 30 to 40 years." Funny, in February last year it was Alinghi that was getting the hyperbolic treatment: "She is the greatest horse I've have ever trained... Don't point to me as the trainer because you're looking at a serious champion." At least he's modest. Resurgent at his now established training Shangri La on the Mornington Peninsula, Freedman is a media pro with a beguiling ability to understate his overstatements, but even he kyboshed the Phar Lap malarkey. And as Lydia Hislop in The Times reminded us: "...when Phar Lap won the 1930 Melbourne Cup, he carried 10lb more than Makybe Diva, conceded more than a stone to the field and won by three lengths, his jockey motionless. He won on each of the four days of that meeting, once just hours after an attempt on his life. His 37 wins from 51 starts included an unbeaten run of 14."

Credit where it's due, what Makybe Diva did today may never be done again, and she is truly one of the best two milers we've ever seen. But she carries luck on her side - she's enjoyed a favourable barrier and a glorious run in each Cup - and she also carries skill in the form of Glen Boss, who despite a prediliction for theatrics is clearly one of the greatest riders of the modern era. It may be heresy to say so, but beating On A Jeune by one and a quarter lengths over two miles isn't the mark of Australia's greatest ever racehorse. Two starts back On A Jeune could only run third in the Benalla Cup. She's a great mare, and let's savour the moment. But let's leave it at that.