Insights into litigation, sports law, media and legal culture

Fact check: Was Jeff Kennett right to criticize RVL over Damien Oliver ban?

Prompted by the seven year disqualification of a jockey in New Zealand for not giving his mount every chance, Jeff Kennett reportedly recently commented that the Racing Victoria Board should resign for not giving Damien Oliver a similar ban.

Jeff’s comments went to the heart of racing integrity in Victoria.

In this post we will look at the facts and see whether Jeff deserves ‘3 steward’s hats’ for being spot on, or a ‘dusty toweling hat’ for being long off the mark.

Damien Oliver

On 12 November 2102, following media reports and a report from the Racing Integrity Commissioner, Damien Oliver admitted to Stewards that he placed a $10,000 win bet on credit (via several intermediaries) on the race favourite, Miss Octopussy at the Moonee Valley night races on 1 October 2010.

The problem? Damien was riding the second favourite in the race, Europa Point.

Miss Octopussy led throughout and won comfortably. Perhaps predictably, Europa Point came second.

Damien received $11,000 in exchange, a $1000 profit. [The circumstances in which Damien was provided with this money led to leading trainer, Robert Smerdon, being fined $10,000. These facts are from the Smerdon decision.]

Damien Oliver pleaded guilty to both charges of betting contrary to AR 83(c) (Charge 1) and using a mobile phone in the jockeys room without Stewards permission contrary to AR 160B(3) (Charge 2).

On 20 November 2012, Stewards disqualified Oliver on Charge 1 for eight months followed by two months suspension to ride in races and on Charge 2, a suspension of one month, to be served concurrently with the penalty under Charge 1.

David Walker

On 19 September 2014, the New Zealand Judicial Committee disqualified David Walker for a total period of seven years, and required him to pay NZ $3,000 in costs (decision here).

There were two race meetings involved:

  1. At the 31 July 2014 Waverly race meeting, David Walker bet on Sam I Am, a horse which finished ahead of his horse, Lil Mer. He entered a guilty plea for betting on an opposing horse.
  2. At the 16 August Otaki Maori race meeting, David Walker bet on St Ransom, a horse which finished ahead of his horse, Watch Your Man. It appears he entered a guilty plea in this respect as well.

Two additional factors added to the gravity of the situation. First, the bets were of a head-to-head variety. In other words, David Walker was not simply backing one horse to win; he wanted the horse to beat his horse.

Secondly, it was found in relation to the 16 August race that David Walker had ridden Watch Your Man to deliberately ensure it finished behind St Ransom.

David Walker had pleaded not guilty in relation to this charge. He claimed to have suffered cramp. This is what the Committee thought of his evidence:

In answer to questions from Mr Neal, he told the Committee that this was the only occasion in his riding career when in the course of a race he had suffered cramp. He said it was in his right hand, and in another part of his evidence he spoke of it affecting both his right hand and his right arm. It is in the Committee’s view a quite remarkable coincidence, if indeed it is a coincidence at all, that the only time in his career that Mr Walker says he suffered cramp during the course of a race was on the very occasion when he backed a horse to beat the one which he was riding, and which horse, St Ransom, was only some short distance ahead of his mount in the closing stages of the race.”

It did not help that, in the very next race, David Walker rode Danny Boy from last to first.

The Committee was influenced by a 2013 decision of the British Horse Racing Authority Disciplinary Panel disqualifying Eddie Ahern for 10 years. Eddie’s ride on JUDGETHEMOMENT (USA) was described as a “remarkable sight”. A self-described “terrible ride”, the horse was ridden to a 10 length lead, with at least one look behind for Eddie to judge the distance, before the horse effectively fainted before the finish. It was found to be no coincidence that one of his associates had bet heavily on other mounts in the race.

In considering its penalty, the Committee distinguished the Damien Oliver case on the basis that there was no allegation that Damien Oliver had ridden his own mount other than its merits.

Betting rules in New Zealand were considered too lax

Interestingly, the David Walker case drew its own controversy about lax racing integrity in New Zealand.   This is because its betting rules were more lenient than many other countries.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand did not have a blanket ban on jockey betting. Jockeys could bet on their own mounts, and in races where they were not riding. This has now been tightened up. A new overall prohibition in betting has been introduced.

Racing Victoria’s Board too removed to influence

As for Racing Victoria, its chairman, Rob Roulston, led a brisk rebuttal of Jeff Kennett’s position (see here):

We welcome Jeff’s new-found interest and passion for Victorian thoroughbred racing, however his comments depict a lack of understanding of our administrative and operating model.” (see here)

He then pointed out the checks and balances inherent in the handling of integrity issues capable of limiting, if not negating, any prospect that Racing Victoria could influence outcomes.

Strengthened processes in Victoria for serious breaches

Actions speak louder than words. Steps announced in March 2014 by Racing Victoria to strengthen its handling of serious breaches indicate a concern that Damien Oliver’s sanction was too light and out of step. These include:

  1. Establishment of Racing Victoria Integrity Council to advise the RV Board on integrity related matters including investigations into serious breaches of the Rules of Racing.
  2. New minimum penalties for serious offences – Minimum disqualifications ranging from six months to five years for offences including jockey betting, corruption and administration of drugs. Effective since 1 March 2013.
  3. Jockey betting declarations – ‘No betting’ declaration introduced from 1 May 2013 as part of the 2013-14 Victorian licensing process. Declaration forms were completed by all jockeys licensed for this racing season.

How many hats?

Has Jeff Kennett earned his 3 stewards’ hats, or is to be the Terry Toweling Wonder?

This is where we ended up:

  • Damien Oliver pleaded guilty to placing a prohibited bet.
  • David Walker pleaded guilty to placing two prohibited bets, and was also found guilty of riding to lose which he had denied.
  • Until recently, New Zealand betting rules were more lenient than those in Australia.
  • The independent integrity layers within Racing Victoria would make it very hard, if not impossible, for its Board to influence any outcome.
  • However, new strengthened processes within Racing Victoria suggest they have been worried that, with Damien Oliver’s case, there was scope to do better.

The upshot? Jeff Kennett is pretty wrong, but not completely.

Perhaps a fascinator is in order.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: