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.”