21 December 2012

Stewards "concessions" pose puzzling questions...

Is that Perry Mason in the birdcage? Or is it Jack McCoy? Or maybe it's... Denny Crane? No, it's RVL Steward Rob Montgomery, who appears perfectly happy to claim responsibility for the conduct of RVL's ham-fisted Oliver investigations. Here's Montgomery quoted in today's SMH:
''Yes, (Mark) Hunter had helped us during the course of the inquiry. And he had earned concessions for doing so. After all, it was his information that brought about the Oliver case. However, it is still an ongoing situation,'' he said.
Didn't The Age also have something to do with it? Anyone who wants open and transparent conduct of integrity assurance in Australian racing, must find those words "earned concessions" very troubling. By what discretion do stewards have the power to make such seemingly ad hoc calculations? Where is the ready reckoner which charts what level of 'cooperation' with stewards grants an "indemnity" to the Australian Rules of Racing? 

22 November 2012

ABC The Drum: Good luck restoring confidence in racing

"Illegal betting scandal overshadows Melbourne Cup": That's the headline people read in Townsville on Cup Day this year. And in Cooper Pedy, Albany, Double Bay and South Yarra. That's what they read in Louisville, Newmarket, Chantilly and Happy Valley.

Read our full story over at the ABC's The Drum.

19 November 2012

"The Spring has been terrific in every way!" - Hines wraps up.

Tomorrow's the big day. Like a reveal on Extreme Makeover, tomorrow the racing public finds out just how it's been duly processed.
Meanwhile the Racing Review chaps were a force for good yesterday. Bruce Clark kicked off with a topic close to our heart: "Why is it an Independent Panel?"
HINES: "It's not really Independent, I think you've got to get this in context."
Ok. So the panel that was so independent they wouldn't talk about, is now not independent at all.
"Its a panel established by the integrity subcommittee of Racing Victoria  to look specifically at the Oliver matter, so it was identified as an inquiry panel, it has Rob Montgomery Deputy Chairman of Stewards, James Hitchcock, a steward and Tony Burns, a barrister that we appointed to that panel."
Yes, very informative, but why was it necessary? And who appointed it and why is Terry Bailey not on it?  Hines said Bailey couldn't be involved in the Oliver matter, because he was tied up with the VCAT Nikolic matter. "It's a workload issue." But that hearing was on the two days after the Melbourne Cup, not in the two weeks before the Cup when swift action was necessary to protect the betting public.

18 November 2012

Cyril Joseph Angles (1906–1962)

Cyril Joseph Angles (1906-1962), sporting commentator, was born on 1 October 1906 at Surry Hills, Sydney, second of eleven children of Victor Emmanuel Angles, labourer, and his wife Ethel Josephine, née Smith, both Sydneysiders. His mother averred that Cyril cried until he was eighteen months old. The family shifted to the Kensington district when he was 4 and he was later sent to Marist Brothers' High School, Darlinghurst, where he distinguished himself as a sprinter in 1919. Having ridden his pony at Payten's paddock, Randwick, he was apprenticed as a jockey to Jack Phoenix, but put on weight and left after two years. By then he belonged to the sub-culture of the turf which flourished around the five courses near his home and he next worked as a clerk for his father, 'Lordy' Angles, who had become a bookie. Through the influence of his brother Fred, a big punter, in 1924 Cyril was employed as a tipster and commission agent by the self-styled 'Mastermind of the Turf' Rufe Naylor who got him a job in 1931 with radio station 2KY.

16 November 2012

ABC The Drum: Spring gems buried in mud

Time to wrap up this infamous spring with a question: If it weren't for Damien Oliver occupying the front page, is it possible the crisis in confidence in racing would be far, far worse?

Read our full story over at the ABC's The Drum.

Stewards always had "ample powers" to stand down Oliver

One of Australia's most prominent officials has told Turf Confidential that Racing Victoria Stewards have always had "ample powers under the Australian Rules of Racing" to require jockey Damien Oliver to answer questions -- and to penalise him should he fail to do so to their satisfaction.
The official, who has decades experience at the senior level, said he was "at a loss as to why (Oliver) wasn't interviewed" by stewards as soon as he was identified as the mystery jockey who placed an illegal bet.
"If he refused to answer questions he could have been immediately stood down and asked to show cause why his licence should not be withdrawn under AR175 (f)," the official said.
Under AR.175 (f), stewards "can penalise" any jockey, indeed any licensed person:
"...who refuses or fails to attend or give such evidence as directed at any inquiry or appeal when requested by the Principal Racing Authority or Stewards to do so."
Likewise, under AR.175 (g), stewards can penalise:
"Any person who gives at any inquiry or appeal any evidence which in their opinion is false or misleading in any particular."

16 questions RVL's Rob Hines will not answer till Tuesday, if ever

Last night we put 16 questions to Racing Victoria for its CEO, Mr Rob Hines:
  1. In order to protect the betting public, why did RVL Stewards not interview and stand down D Oliver immediately when The Age first published the allegation that he placed an illegal bet on a rival in the same race in which he was riding?
  2. Mr Hines says no prior arrangement or deal has been made with D Oliver, and he and other RVL officials say Oliver only informed RVL on Monday that he made an illegal bet. If this is so, why is Oliver not also being charged with bringing racing into disrepute for not making his admission earlier?
  3. Does Mr Hines know of any RVL office holder who had prior knowledge of Oliver's guilt prior to his admission on Monday?
  4. When was the separate three-person panel conducting the inquiry into Damien Oliver appointed?
  5. Who appointed the independent panel? Was it the CEO Hines, the RVL Board or the Chairman of Stewards? Or some other person or individual?
  6. Has the RVL Board approved the appointment of a separate panel?
  7. Is the separate Panel answerable to the Chairman of Stewards, or to the RVL Board?
  8. What avenue of appeal exists to the decisions of the separate panel? 
  9. What are the terms of reference of the separate panel? 
  10. Who decided the RV Chief Steward should be excluded from the separate panel?
  11. What precedent is there for the appointment of a panel separate from the Stewards?
  12. Why was it necessary for the Chairman and other stewards to be excluded from the Panel's work?
  13. Under what Australian Rule of Racing was the separate panel appointed?
  14. What legal firm is advising RVL on matters pertaining to the separate panel?
  15. Is Rob Hines considering legal action against those journalists who have accused him in public of not being truthful about when he first knew about the Oliver betting scandal?
  16. Mr Hines is retiring. When is he expected to leave the role?
RVL responded this morning saying Hines won't be making any statement before next Tuesday's hearing.
UPDATE: RVL responded to question 16: "His term as Racing Victoria CEO concludes at month’s end."

12 November 2012

Now it's EPO. How did we get here?

Watch your back... Edgar Degas'
Jockey forward flexed standing in the saddle
We woke up yesterday, the day after the worst week for Australian racing in the modern era, to yet fresh infamy:
Geez, Louise, how did we end up here? Toss in a rash of race-day stomach tubing, dubiously-connected owners, the Nikolic hearing, and the fact that Oliver is still riding -- for the chaps on TVN's Racing Review you could sense the barely-contained panic. For 87 minutes they held their noses rather than deal with the great steaming mound of manure in the middle of the room. With minutes left on the clock, the boys took in a little whiff, collectively gagged and then pulled the pin. It was simply all too hard.

The Spring's glittering gems now seem way off, barely visible in the twilight: a stellar Caulfield carnival, Dunaden's brilliant Cup, Pierro's tussle with All Too Hard in the Guineas, Ocean Park's superlative string of victories. All these gifts now buried in mud.

Matt Stewart in The Herald Sun has pulled together a brilliant shame file.  He concluded:
"But, sadly, this spring might be well be remembered as the spring where racing managed to isolate itself from the rest of the community by so much it might be impossible to bridge the gap."
What new effrontery awaits? Who is going to step up and clean up this mess?

08 November 2012

Memo to RVL: process comes before, not after the inquiry

Oliver will ride on, and Racing Victoria CEO Rob Hines demonstrates he still doesn't get it:
"Once the current investigation into allegations against jockey Damien Oliver has concluded, we will provide an explanation of the process and timing of our investigation," Hines said.
No, no, no. Transparent processes are established BEFORE the inquiry, not after. And if Oliver has admitted to the infraction he should be stood down immediately. The Cup may be yesterday's news but Oliver remains a rolling bad headline.

On the topic of Racing Victoria's inept handling of this issue, yes, it is true we've been ahead of the curve, but note that the floodgates of indignation are now fairly gushing with opprobrium for RVL. Cop these quotes:

06 November 2012

Cumani, Freedman discuss Damien Oliver on Melbourne Cup morning, 2012

UPDATE: Richard Hinds comments in The Age entertainment pages:

ABC The Drum: UPDATE: Damien Oliver should stand down.

"Damien Oliver should stand down from riding immediately following a report in this morning's Fairfax press alleging that he admitted last month to authorities to the charge of betting on a rival runner. Failing that, connections of cup favourite Americain should do the racing public and the great tradition of the Melbourne Cup a big fat favour and remove Oliver from the ride.
These latest claims cut to the very heart of our story on Friday. Corrupt activity and the administrators who appear unable to deal with it in a timely and transparent manner are doing the Australian turf untold damage."
Read our updated story over at the ABC's The Drum.

05 November 2012

7's McAvaney: "Racing is my first love."

Many forget or are unaware that silver-lined host of Seven's Spring Carnival coverage, Bruce McAvaney, started out as a racecaller in the late 70s for Adelaide's 5DN. McAvaney attracts more than his share of troll-driven ridicule and rarely gets his due as the consummate professional and one of our greatest broadcasters. Here's his call of At Talaq's 1986 Cup.

RVL winds back claims it must "sit back and wait" for Police

We were alarmed by comments last week from RVL CEO Rob Hines, when he told TVN:
"The Stewards are not law enforcement, the police are the law enforcement agency and we have to run second string to them. So when they have a criminal investigation we have to sit back and wait for that to be resolved." 
So we asked RVL media to put three questions to Mr Hines, questions not specifically related to any allegation or investigation:
  1. Under what statute must RVL "sit back and wait" to investigate any information it has that the Australian Rules of Racing have been breached? 
  2. Does ANY police investigation into possible criminal activity within the racing industry specifically preclude RVL from conducting their own investigations within their own jurisdiction under the Australian Rules of Racing? 
  3. What formal processes exist for the sharing of information between Police and Racing Controlling Bodies?
Here are RVL's corporate responses reprinted in full:

RVL confirms Oliver investigation... and its own lack of transparency

Racing Victoria Limited Communications Manager, Shaun Kelly, has responded to our ten open questions and has finally confirmed that RVL is investigating Damien Oliver:
"In response to Questions 1-10 ... Racing Victoria’s investigation into jockey Damien Oliver is ongoing, and we will not be commenting on any matters relating to it at this stage."
That's it. While this finally breaks RVL's refusal to acknowledge that it is even conducting "an investigation into jockey Damien Oliver", RVL is happy to leave questions 2-10 unanswered, including in our opinion the question that most goes to RVL's capacity to maintain public confidence in racing:

02 November 2012

ABC The Drum: Our national day of wilful blindness

"It's the eve of Victoria Derby Day, truly one of the world's great racedays, and the Spring Carnival PR machine is in overdrive: it's all horses and frocks, gallops and Gaultier. And we're just three days from that race that 'allegedly' stops the nation, when Melbourne's biggest annual tourism event reaches its crescendo.
"Most notably, no one gives a flying horseshoe whether the racing game is 'allegedly' crook or not. The public, the media and racing's administrators have swept that word 'allegedly'into the wowser basket.
"Nothing will spoil our national day of wilful blindness, of hooves and hedonism. And to be honest, yours truly plans to join the throng headlong in celebration of the noble steed and, of course, 'the punt'."

Read our full story over at the ABC's The Drum.

The 1956 Hotham Handicap...

The "Hotham Handicap", run on Victoria Derby Day since 1869, produced Australia's first recorded triple dead heat, in 1956.

Triple treat: (from left)  Fighting Force (J. Purtell), Ark Royal (R. Heather) and Pandie Sun (W. Williamson).

29 October 2012

Ten questions for Racing Victoria Limited...

Ten days ago we put several questions to RVL's media rep which they promptly ignored. So here are the questions again, in detail:
  1. Considering it has made no admission to the contrary, does RVL stand by its official statement on August 15 that it "...has no knowledge of the allegation ... regarding a jockey wagering on another horse in the same race?
  2. If RVL does know of the allegation, when did it become aware, and does it concern D Oliver?
  3. If RVL knew about the Oliver allegation before The Age named him on October 14, when was it planning to announce that knowledge to the general public?
  4. Does RVL know the identity of the unnamed third party who placed the alleged bet on Oliver's behalf?
  5. When was the three person panel appointed to conduct the investigation? Who appointed it and who decided the Chief Steward should not sit on it?
  6. Has this panel held any hearings or interviewed D Oliver or any other licensed person about the matters cited in the Age reports?
  7. If not, when does it plan to?
  8. If it has, why are those hearings being held in camera or without accredited media present?
  9. Despite the fact police are investigating, why has RVL not released any terms of reference or specific details about the process it is undergoing in its own investigations?
  10. Is RVL delaying its investigation until after the Spring Carnival?
RVL can send their responses to turfconfidential@gmail.com and we will insert them.

UPDATE: RVL Replies:
"Racing Victoria’s investigation into jockey Damien Oliver is ongoing, and we will not be commenting on any matters relating to it at this stage."

Is Damien Oliver really under investigation for making a secret bet on a rival?

* UPDATE: Yes, Damien Oliver really is under investigation by Stewards. *
Is Damien Oliver really under stewards investigation for allegedly making a secret bet on a rival? Racing Victoria has still made no such public admission. Focusing on just the Oliver allegation, let's revisit the timeline to reveal RVL's apparent mission to keep the racing and betting public as much in the dark as possible.

On August 15, Hines released a statement reacting to a report in the Fairfax papers that an an unamed jockey "bet thousands of dollars on a rival horse to win in a race in which he was riding". Hines said RVL:
"...has no knowledge of the allegation in today's Fairfax newspapers regarding a jockey wagering on another horse in the same race and is not aware of the source of this allegation."

"The odd blip" pushes RVL to hand off integrity to Police

Racing Victoria Racing Limited CEO Rob Hines yesterday appeared to walk away from a zero-tolerance policy of corruption in racing:
"It's just a fact that people are never convinced that racing is completely clean... just occasionally there'll be instances and I think the general public know that and understand that the odd blip won't affect us."
In a revealing interview with TVN's youthful host, Bruce Clark, Hines appeared to hand-off the safeguarding of racing integrity to law enforcement:
"The Stewards are not law enforcement, the police are the law enforcement agency and we have to run second string to them. So when they have a criminal investigation we have to sit back and wait for that to be resolved." 
So there you go punters, bet with confidence, and all will be revealed in the fullness of post-Carnival time.

UPDATE: RVL winds back claims it must "sit back and wait" for Police

26 October 2012

Hold the phone, Sal's on the case.

Reassuring that when you call the Office of the Racing Integrity Commissioner, the Commissioner picks up the phone. Either he needs more staff or he's keen to demonstrate his accessibility to the public. Or both.
"I think of myself as public defender," says Sal Perna, "It's my job to ensure the public has confidence in racing integrity."
Perna wound up his month-long inquiry into race fixing allegations more than 5 weeks ago. We didn't miss him on that occasion, labeling his invitation convicted jailed drug baron Tony Mokbel to spill his guts from the gaol cell as an "extraordinary stunt".
Perna has had no response to his letter to Fat Tony, but from what we've heard from sources we are prepared to roll back the outrage and cut Sal some slack.
A former Victorian homicide cop who comes from "outside" racing, Perna has collected 60 "information reports" on his listening tour and interviewed both law enforcement and racing controlling authorities.
Was it two way traffic down Russell Street? Did law enforcement share information and intelligence with him?
"Yes they did."
Did he know about the Oliver secret betting allegation during his inquiry?
"I cannot talk about specific cases."
Will you be making your findings public?
"Yes and I will be taking a two-pronged approach: first, I will report on the race-fixing allegations and whether any corruption is systemic, and second, I will be looking at the broader issues."
  1. oversight of licensed persons
  2. Sharing of information with law enforcement
  3. the powers of his role as integrity commissioner
Bated breath. The whole world is watching, kind of.

20 October 2012

19 October 2012

ABC The Drum: The turf's inconvenient truths

"On the eve of its marquee event, the Spring Carnival, Australia's multi-billion dollar racing industry is circling the wagons. As the great and the good of the international turf descend on Melbourne to compete in our biggest races, allegations of corruption and scandal are spoiling the party big time.
"Three weeks ago jockey Danny Nikolic, already under investigation for alleged race fixing, was banned for two years by authorities for threatening the chief steward. This week champion rider Damien Oliver's hero status was shattered by allegations he bet $10,000 on another runner in a race in which he was riding. And the favourite for tomorrow's Caulfield Cup, Glencadam Gold, will be ridden by Jimmy Cassidy, one of Australia's greatest ever jockeys, and the subject of ongoing allegations that he received corrupt payments from incarcerated drug lord Tony Mokbel. Cassidy has denied the claim.
"From a media standpoint, the most notable feature of these revelations is who broke these stories: not the racing journos who cover the game week in, week out, but "non-racing" news and investigative reporters."

Read our full story over at the ABC's The Drum.

18 October 2012

Leading stipe Murrihy dead against jockeys betting

ATC Chief Steward Ray Murrihy has slammed suggestions that jockeys should be allowed to legally bet on their own mounts, warning that both integrity and safety would be compromised.
"It alarms me to see some very ill-informed comments around in this area," Murrihy told Turf Confidential. "The idea that any of the current problems we've seen in the news will be solved by allowing jockeys to bet on their own mounts is in my view a very short sighted approach."
In the wake of the weekend's allegations that Damien Oliver placed a $10,000 bet on a rival mount, there has been a steady stream of calls to change the rules of racing to allow jockeys to bet on their own mounts.

Murrihy, the most respected and experienced steward in Australia, is having none of it.
"I can imagine scores of scenarios in which this could seriously undermine confidence in racing and integrity," said Murrihy.
"For instance, say a jockey had ten thousand on his mount one week when it won and then didn't back it a week later when the same horse lost. I'm sure both punters and the stewards would both be very concerned to see things like that. 

15 October 2012

Journalists discuss racing corruption revelations

Explosive matters are canvassed in depth in Shane Anderson's interview today on RSN with Nick McKenzie of The Age. The interview reveals:
  • The Age has known about the Oliver allegations for "a little while".
  • The Age did not know that Racing Victoria Stewards were investigating the Miss Octopussy event (see above).
  • McKenzie gave Damien Oliver the opportunity to deny the allegations before The Age went to press but Oliver would only offer "no comment". McKenzie said Oliver "does not address the central allegation in his statement".
  • on the Smoking Aces affair, McKenzie expects criminal charges to be laid after Victorian Police were at Caulfield last week "asking about the Smoking Aces affair and other bits and pieces".
  • Another race is under stewards investigation from February this year.
  • Most races are above board but authorities "are kidding themselves" if they don't think up to 30 races might be involved.

Alleged journalists "disappointed" by leaks during Spring Carnival

The news about Damien Oliver had broken and TVN's Bruce Clark was not happy:
"Who leaked this story to The Age? It can't be the police because they're not investigating this."
Clarke was incredulous that such a bombshell could be dropped six days before a Caulfield Cup. 

Back in August the Racing Review chums were similarly bothered when The Age's Nick McKenzie made his first rude intrusions into Shangri-La. Clarke continued:
"This investigation is by the (Racing Victoria) Stewards! The basis of all these stories has been leaks from Victorian Police to The Age. It can't be the police (that leaked the story) because they're not investigating this." 
Clark didn't reveal how he knew police weren't investigating, nor did he say how he'd got access to all The Age's sources to be able to make such a claim. But then Adrian Dunn said something really extraordinary:
"Well, it's a Pandora's Box, because this was all supposedly going to be happening AFTER the Spring Carnival, it's now right in the middle of the Spring Carnival."
Freeze. Hold it right there.
"...this was all supposedly going to be happening AFTER the Spring Carnival..."

Damien, say it isn't so...

We heard the rumours months ago. And like anyone who's ever given a damn about our turf, we still don't want this to be true.

If it is true, this will be a tragedy not just for the Oliver the man, but for anyone who has ever put their trust in D.Oliver the jockey: owners, trainers, punters. After that Melbourne Cup, when the whole damn country was with him, when we cried with him and willed him to victory... We don't want this to be true. Damien, say it isn't so.

We read the statement.

09 October 2012

TVN Board brouhaha unearths consultants' bonanza

Cracking yarn from Chris Roots in the Sydney Morning Herald on the brouhaha consuming contenders for the new TVN board, still in caretaker mode and with its CEO about to leave. Roots reports:
"Victoria Racing Club chairman Michael Burn and Melbourne Racing Club chairman Michael Symons have been put forward by their respective clubs. But the Herald understands their (sic) is opposition to both men because they previously held consultancy contracts with the broadcaster.
"The consultancy contracts were identified while Racing NSW was carrying out due diligence on TVN.
"It is understood Burn and Symons charged TVN $15,000 a month each for work on a failed attempt to take over Sky Channel and to secure the continuation of the television rights for Sydney metropolitan racing with the Australian Turf Club last year."
And then this:

05 October 2012

Nikolic rolls last dice as Hines hangs tough

As widely expected, disqualified jockey Danny Nikolic has lodged a legal appeal with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal against this week's earlier decision by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board, but there will be no "immediate" return to the track. Nikolic is seeking to have two applications heard on VCAT's Occupational & Business Regulation List:
  1. a stay of enforcement of the penalty,
  2. the overturning of the RAD Board decision. 
A VCAT spokesperson told TC that the first matter was expected to be listed on Monday and would "likely be heard within a week to 10 days".
  • If successful it may mean Nikolic will be free to ride as early as the Caulfield Cup meeting on October 27.  
  • If unsuccessful, contrary to popular opinion, Nikolic will have no further avenue of appeal unless his lawyers can make a case that VCAT erred on a point of law. Then, and only then, could he be granted leave to appeal to Victoria's Supreme Court or Court of Appeal. 
It would need to be some error.

Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, Racing Victoria CEO Rob Hines has backed the RAD Board decision, revealing it was in line with what Stewards were seeking. Hines rejected reported claims that the penalty should have conformed to standard UK integrity practice of a 41 day suspension instead of a two year disqualification. And he is in no doubt that Chief Steward Terry Bailey was:
 "...an outstanding individual and he's doing a fabulous job".
UPDATE:  The Age reports Nikolic's application on the stay of the penalty will be heard next Tuesday, October 16.

02 October 2012

RAD bans Nikolic for two years for threats "delivered for maximum impact"

Steward's attire c.1890. 
Disqualified jockey Danny Nikolic -- better known as just "Danny" to the racing media -- copped a caning from Racing Victoria's legal counsel during today's RAD Board appeal hearing.
Addressing the central allegation that on 4 September 2012, at Seymour, Nikolic verbally abused Chief Steward Terry Bailey and threatened his family, counsel for the stewards Sandip Mukerjea of Minter Ellison declared:
"The threat was delivered in the absence of witnesses so as to have the maximum impact." 
Mukerjea told the three-man panel, which does not hear testimony under oath, that Nikolic had a pattern of "abusive, disrespectful and threatening conduct" towards racing authorities. He had "verbally attacked Bailey four times since February 2010 and that stewards did not want him back riding".

Slam dunk. Guilty on both counts. Two years and one year, served concurrently.

01 October 2012

Brits must brace for the Asian racing century

QEII heads in the wrong direction.
In Britain, the turf is the second most popular spectator sport after football, and is enjoying a popular revival due to the exploits of wonder horse Frankel. However that august journal of record, The Economist, says beneath the silver lining lay threatening clouds: prize money has "plummeted" and the racing business is fast shifting to the Eastern hemisphere. The article charts the challenge to Britain from Asia, from Dubai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and especially China, "where racing seems to be blossoming into a high-society pursuit":
"The wealthy Chinese are “turning much more attention to racing,” and regard it as an untapped industry, says Felix Wang, author of the China Horse Racing Bible. Though the sport was legalised only in 2008, already five racetrack permits have been awarded. The most ambitious is Tianjin’s Equine Culture City, which at an estimated cost of $2 billion will have two racetracks and be home to 3,000 horses. Racing is due to start in 2014, the Year of the Horse."
Coolmore announced in April a €40m deal to dispatch 100 broodmares and several stallions to Tianjin. In fact Ireland is seeking first-mover advantage in China, but a more skeptical view from a Shanghai expat casts a shadow over the dash for cash.

24 September 2012

Integrity czar asks nicely for jailed drug baron to spill his guts on race fixing

Victoria's Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna has wound up his month-long inquiry into race fixing with an extraordinary stunt, "inviting" convicted jailed drug baron Tony Mokbel to spill his guts from the gaol cell. In an uninformative interview on TVN's Racing Review yesterday Perna told Bruce Clark:
"I just felt whenever anybody talks about criminal activity in racing, eight out of 10 times Tony's name comes up and I just thought it was worth testing. 
"I don't know if he was going to ever say yes or no but I wanted to test that, so the verbal approach went and now there's a more formal approach with a letter just saying to him that the invitation still stands and if he feels that he'd like to talk to me I'd be happy to go down there."
What? Send Mokbel a letter? Happy to go down for a fireside chat, if Fat Tony has the time?

Barry O'Farrell slashes education, builds racetracks. Or does he?

As Barry O'Farrell rolls out swingeing State budget cuts, the last place  he'd want to be seen splashing cash would be a racetrack. Which is why we've been scratching our collective heads this week trying to work out why his Racing Minister, Upper Hunter MP George Souris, has been out there announcing new upgrades to racetracks like Wednesday's announcement of an $11 million refit for the goat track at Newcastle's Broadmeadow course.

Funnier still is the fact that NSW taxpayers aren't even stumping up the cash. The Newcastle project is funded from Racing NSW's $100 million war chest gained from the outcome of the High Court's Race Fields decision in May. What a strange game politics is.

Melbourne Carnival theme song déjà vu all over again...

Ever wondered who does that track being used as the theme for the Melbourne Spring Carnival ad campaign? It's Italian electronica outfit Planet Funk and their track from 2000 called Chase the Sun. The clip doesn't immediately bring horses to mind, being set in a mental asylum, but the lyrics are more suggestive of the majesty of the turf:
"I'm flying away
Running like the wind
Chased by the sun
Up spinning around
Circles in my mind
Sailing over ground."
But if it all sounds familiar, it is. The same track was first used to promote the carnival back in 2000.

21 September 2012

Turf and trots stewards merger a non starter (psst, someone tell the Minister)

The mooted merger of NSW trots and turf stewards is a non-starter: only someone forgot to tell the genius who came up with the idea, the state's racing minister, George Souris.

Exactly one year ago today, to the dismay of insiders, Souris decided to let one rip, decreeing the then-disgraced Harness Racing NSW stewards panel would be disbanded and merged with Ray Murrihy's stipendiary regime at Racing NSW.

Taken at the height of the worst integrity scandal in the trots of the modern era, Souris's move was widely viewed as "knee-jerk" by a Minister keen to be seen doing somepin, anypin! As the SMH then reported, Murrihy, the nation's most senior stipe, "wasn't even consulted about the decision".
One year ago, Souris's office put out a statement claiming the decision was:
 "...agreed to by the boards of both Racing NSW and Harness Racing NSW at the request of Mr Souris."
Today, we rang the Minister's press sec for an update:

13 September 2012

States urged to match NSW on race-fixing penalties

Australia's Federal Minister for Sport has used the passage of NSW laws imposing stiff penalties for race-fixing to call on other states to quickly follow suit and bring about a national regime to "protect the integrity of sport".
Senator Kate Lundy hailed the NSW Crimes Amendment (Cheating at Gambling) Bill 2012 as "a very important milestone in the delivery of Australia’s National Policy on Match-Fixing in Sport.” In June 2011 the Federal, State and Territory governments agreed to a national policy to protect the integrity of sport. Today Senator Lundy said:
“A key element of this agreement was the development of consistent national match-fixing criminal offences to stamp out corruption and make it an offence to intentionally fix or attempt to fix the outcome of a sporting event.
"I now call on the other States and Territories to follow the lead of NSW and take action to protect the integrity of sport.”
Source documents:

23 August 2012

TABCORP answers critics on its new website (sort of)

Slow to load, allegedly difficult to navigate, TABCORP's widely-panned "upgrade" to its website has achieved a rare consensus among punters in the form of a chorus of disapproval. Hats off therfore to Melbourne Racing's Matt Nicholls for putting pertinent questions to the TAB, and kudos to the TAB in turn for replying, although their replies are the usual corporate affairs straight bat. Checkout Matt's Q&A and let us know your specific complaints about the site.

20 August 2012

Racing Reviewers turn on the media

"The Fairfax papers are clearly being well fed by Victorian police," complained Bruce Clark to Mick Sharkie on TVN's Racing Review. "And I can't understand The Herald Sun in any way!" Clark and the boys, back this week from winter break, were tackling the indignity of seeing racing's good name dragged through the mud in their absence. Clark insisted that denials by racing authorities like Racing Victoria and Betfair of any knowledge of alleged corrupt practices equated with denying the allegations altogether. With an eye to the future, Sharkie was more cautious: "People are innocent till proven guilty," he counseled before swinging back to the core integrity issue: we need racing authorities and the police to start talking. In Sydney Richard Callander was uncharacteristically lost for words: "How can we comment when we don't know the whole story?" Could be "one bad seed" said Callander but, again, the media has been "silly for building suspicion. And that's all the papers now are doing: trying to sell papers." he said. Callander noted "we're not privy to the information that the police are withholding from the racing industry." Unless you're from The Age it would seem. Mark Shean, whose sage interventions are usually the show's highlight, said nothing at all on the topic. Eventually Clark shrugged at an email from a punter worried about doing his dough on a crooked racing game. "If you've got those concerns," Clark told the viewer, "don't bet until it's all cleaned up. A case of buyer beware." Cold comfort.

Over at Sky's Racing Retro, Richard Freeman, called "bullshit"! Freeman was adamant that Sal Perna is just a well meaning bureaucrat. Perna and Rob Hines and Dennis Napthine were engaging in nothing but a "window dressing exercise". "They haven't even got the authority to compel people to give evidence! Can you imagine anyone with real evidence of race fixing turning up at this inquiry and just handing it over?" You said it, Richard.

17 August 2012

McDonald: I train Smoking Aces, no if or buts. McCarthy: No comment.

Following up on The Age's revelation this morning that:
"Racing sources have confirmed that Danny Nikolic had significant control over the ownership and training of Smoking Aces, directing a Caulfield trainer on how the horse should be treated in the lead-up to the Cranbourne race."
There's only one Caulfield trainer currently listed as that of Smoking Aces: Clinton McDonald. We rang him to ask about The Age story and he is under no illusions as to who trains Smoking Aces:
"I train the horse, simple, no if buts or maybes. I train the horse and the owner owns the horse. I have no idea what they are talking about."
UPDATE: Of course he doesn't. As our friend @gisikus in the comments noted, Brendan McCarthy was the listed trainer of Smoking Aces at the time of the Cranbourne event under investigation. At least we've given McDonald the chance to allay any confusion that The Age might be referring to him! We are seeking comment from McCarthy unless one of our esteemed colleagues gets to him first.

But The Age opted for a curious choice of words: it appears to be inferring to McCarthy, being is careful to stop short of identifying the official trainer, citing "a Caulfield trainer", ie. not necessarily the official trainer. This piece has been legalled to the max.

UPDATE II: We finally got onto Brendan McCarthy and put the Age quotes to him: "No mate, I haven't got any comment thanks."

"Plugger" Perna to probe Smoking Aces and more

Victoria's Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna has finally announced an inquiry into race fixing in the state following the stream of allegations coming out of The Age's investigative unit. The Commissioner has allotted just 25 days to look into the Smoking Aces affair but has also given himself a wide brief:
''It's also about plugging holes in systems and processes. Are there changes that could have been done better? … Are there changes that are needed to be made to legislation?'' Mr Perna said.
Perna said his probe would be covering all three racing codes. That's a lot to cover, given the daily dose of revelations The Age team has been doling out, as today's paper demonstrates with more sensational allegations almost buried at the bottom of the report:
"Racing sources have confirmed that Danny Nikolic had significant control over the ownership and training of Smoking Aces, directing a Caulfield trainer on how the horse should be treated in the lead-up to the Cranbourne race."
And just as a parting gesture:
"Organised crime figures along the east coast are closely tied to major betting operations run by professional punters and which have access to trainers, jockeys and other racing figures."
Oh, joy.

16 August 2012

Racehorse Owners call for jockey phone taps

In the wake of yesterday's allegations of more corrupt practices by jockeys, Victorian Racehorse Owners Association chairman Jonathan Munz has told The Age ''jockeys should, as a condition of their licence, be required to consent to their phones and conversations being intercepted if that is required by the chief steward or RVL head of integrity on a reasonable basis, in conjunction with the police."

Such a bombshell begs the obvious question: why stop at jockeys? What about trainers and strappers and stablehands -- all licensed persons? What about vets? What about raceclub employees? How about bookmakers*? What about ... owners???

If such draconian measures are required to secure public confidence in racing, you could forgive the non-racing public for asking why should such a suspect milieu be allowed to operate at all? Said Munz:
"The majority of jockeys, who all do the right thing, should have no concerns about such a requirement.''  
So why require it of them?

Munz returns to earth when he says: ''RVL's senior integrity officers need proper access to all the information available to police, with adequate safeguards provided.''

* Bookmakers telephone bets are recorded but not their private phones (they hope!).

15 August 2012

Betfair denies lay betting investigation

Meanwhile Today's Age/SMH article also claims:
"... a source from the wagering company Betfair has confirmed a major investigation is being conducted into lay betting - in which a person backs a horse to lose - involving more than two dozen races and another leading jockey.
We asked Betfair spokesperson Mathew Thompson about the story: "This creates the impression that this is something new. It's not. And it's also not the case that there's any specific investigation going on into lay betting."

Thompson told TC "under the terms of our licence we regularly share information on betting with racing stewards and sporting bodies." Does Betfair have a policy of sharing any information about police investigations with racing authorities? "We cooperate with the police like anyone else but I don't know if we have a policy to share those details with others."

Thompson said he'd find out more and get back to us.

UPDATE: Thoroughbred News is reporting comments from Betfair CEO Giles Thompson confirming the denial of any investigation into lay betting, either with police or internally.

Corruption revelations beg only more questions

The racing commentariat was unanimous on Twitter last week that there was nothing in the 4 Corners expose on corruption in horse racing. It was all "old news", not worth the effort even watching. One scribe thought it outrageous that 4 Corners had the temerity to spring questions over the affair to Jockey D Nikolic in the birdcage. Now, a week later, on the front page of SMH, lo and behold:
A scandal involving fixing horse races has spread, with at least four top jockeys, professional punters and other racing identities across Australia now under investigation. In addition to the Smoking Aces affair - which involves fresh allegations that top jockey Danny Nikolic paid kickbacks to a third party to fix a race - authorities are also examining corruption allegations linked to several other horse races. One of the allegations involves one of Australia's most famous jockeys, who bet thousands of dollars on a rival horse to win in a race in which he was riding.
Which jockeys? What races? Which punters? What authorities? Which of Australia's most famous jockeys is betting on his rivals' mounts? Alas, the article does not say. We could add another question, which racing journo will be first to blow the lid on these identities and allegations?

UPDATE: Listen to Shane Anderson's interview this morning with Age journo Richard Baker. No names, no pack drill.

UPDATE: Racing Victoria CEO Rob Hines says the controlling body has "no knowledge of the allegation in today's Fairfax newspapers regarding a jockey wagering on another horse in the same race and is not aware of the source of this allegation. If evidence is provided to Racing Victoria to support this allegation then swift action will be taken by the Stewards under the Rules of Racing.”

17 July 2012

Workhorse Williams goes global with Dunaden deal

Vintage überhoops.
With his appointment as Arc-bound Dunaden's permanent pilot, topline jockey Craig Williams has graduated from mere Australian abroad to globetrotting überhoop.
And "despite living in Australia", Williams is getting a good run in the international racing press as the compete professional. David Redvers, racing manager for Qatar's Sheikh Fahad Al Thani told At The Races:
“Craig has won his only two starts on the horse, he knows him well and was prepared to make the sacrifice and commitment to come all the way from Australia to ride the horse whenever he ran. 

07 July 2012

Taxman targets professional punters' winnings

Bet more, yer'get more!
Wagering industry bosses will be gagging on their wheaties this morning reading The Daily Telegraph report that the Australian Tax Office is going after big professional punters, ruling that the huge profits on turnover generated by an exclusive group of punting titans are outside the tax exemptions on gambling winnings. The Tele says "the case could set a precedent for professional gamblers deemed to have a business-like approach to betting." With a reported turnover in 2006 of more than $2 billion dollars, the club, which includes the legendary Zeljko Ranogajec, often dubbed the world's biggest gambler, and arts patron David Walsh, owner of Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art, originally met studying maths at the University of Tasmania. The report says the ATO claims:
"... the professional nature of the group's activities means the usual rule that gambling winnings are tax-exempt do not apply.
The ATO says taxpayers are owed $900 million in unpaid taxes and alleges "the club deliberately destroyed its gambling records and used computer encryption software to make prosecuting the members difficult."

27 June 2012

La dolce vita turns sour for doomed Italian racing

Italian turf's best export, Frankie Dettori, went home in 2009 to
win the Italian Derby on Master GB at Rome's Capannelle track.
Racing in Italy, "beset by deep-rooted financial problems, is set to come under the direct control of the government before plans for a possible privatisation can be enacted" reported racingpost.com. Treasury minister Vittorio Grilli announced that Assi (which took over from Unire as Italian racing's independent governing body earlier this year) "will be disbanded and the Ministry Of Agriculture will take control of running racing, while the customs agency is to oversee the betting industry". Tote betting is declining by 25% year on year and prize-money in Italy is down by 40% for 2012 "as the industry lurches from crisis to crisis". No date has been set for when the Ministry Of Agriculture will take control "but it is believed they will be in place before Guido Melzi d'Eril, president of the Federation Of Racecourses, delivers a report into regulatory reform of the racing and betting industries. His report is due to be finished next month." In January, Italian racing journalist, Dr Carlo Zuccoli, told The Guardian:
"The betting model, through which money comes back to racing, is broken, and it is effectively bankrupt. As it stands, every race that is run is being run at a loss. Nobody in Italy has any money at the moment and the new minister has already made it clear that there will be nothing more for the sport. The only way forward is to admit that we need a new structure for funding racing and to start again with a clean slate. If we try to carry on as things are, racecourses will close and racing will not survive in Italy."
--  with breedingracing.com

24 June 2012

Black Caviar post-scripts pile the BS a mile high

Get ready for an avalanche of horse manure in the wash up after Black Caviar's narrow victory in last night's Diamond Jubilee at Ascot. Expect more like this unbridled hyperbole from The Punch's Anthony Sharwood:
"About 100m before the post, he eased up on Black Caviar. He did this not out of arrogance or disrespect for the chasers, but out of respect for Black Caviar ... Nolen could have continued to wield the whip and extract that little bit extra out of Black Caviar for a more decisive margin. Instead, he looked after the horse’s welfare. Too much effort in a single race can break a horse’s spirit forever. You see it all the time. That was the last thing Nolen wanted to do.
"So instead, he eased her up with less than 100m to go. But he did so a bit early, and had to get busy again in the last strides to throw the horse across the line."
What utter rubbish!

28 May 2012

Guess who's staying out of trouble?

"He is partial to fast cars: he has owned a Porsche 911 and currently drives a silver Mercedes SLS Gullwing (retail price: $496,000). But to picture him driving it fast, let alone crashing it, is to picture the Pope smoking crack."

Find out here...

26 May 2012

And we're back...

The mighty Bernborough
Hiatus over, betchya all missed us!
We can't guarantee punctuality but we will always deliver perspicacity.

01 January 2012

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