NOTHER MUTHAR OF A BUNGLE FROM RACING VICTORIA ?
The charge laid by Racing Victoria Stewards against prominent Melbourne trainer Robert Smerdon has all the hallmarks of another bungle. Smerdon has been charged with “conduct prejudicial to the image or interests or welfare of racing”, arising out of the revelation that he was handed $11,000 by his good mate and form analyst and commission agent, Mark Hunter to pass on to Damien Oliver. According to Hunter the money was the proceeds of the now infamous bet that he placed on behalf of Oliver on Miss Octopussy, the subsequent winner of the race in 2010 in which Oliver rode the unplaced second favourite Europa Point.
Smerdon, it has been revealed told Stewards he knew nothing of the bet and passed it on to Oliver as directed by his good mate Mark Hunter. Further, Smerdon did not deliver the money to Oliver’s home, as has been inaccurately reported by News Limited, but it was picked up by Oliver from Smerdon. We’re fucking confused. Are you?
According to those in the know in Melbourne, Smerdon’s claim that he was unaware of the bet and the circumstances has not been contradicted in the evidence given to the Stewards. If that is the case, then it is completely perplexing and mind-numbing why the Stewards would lay charges and keep this sorry episode alive and allow further unwanted and highly damaging publicity to the already severely tarnished image of racing. Rather than move on and bring some finality to this disastrous blight on Australian racing, the Stewards appear to be hell-bent on keeping the fire burning and brighrtly at that.
It must be remembered that Racing Victoria and its band of Stewards, below, have not exactly covered themselves with glory with their handling of several scandals over the past six months or so. In just about every instance, they have managed to keep racing on the front pages and as the lead item in electronic media news bulletins for all the wrong reasons.
Clearly, if Racing Victoria has been trigger happy and fails to substantiate the charge, then Robert Smerdon has a very legitimate case to pursue racing Victoria for damages. The bottom line is that in racing, be it in Australia, Hong Kong, Europe, the US or any country for that matter, “gifts” or “slings”, are common place. It is an accepted practice to give trainers, jockeys, stable staff, gifts or slings in the form of cash or in kind, when a horse wins a race, and depending on whether connections have backed a horse or not often determines the size of the gift or reward.
Where in Australia, gifts or slings are generally in cash, they are modest and almost embarrassingly paltry in comparison to what jockeys and trainers in Hong Kong and Singapore receive from grateful owners. It is the single reason why trainers and jockeys are coveted in these countries. Successful jockeys and trainers literally set themselves and their families up for life. It is also the single reason why they try so damn hard to be successful.
So, when Robert Smerdon tells the Stewards that he was merely handing over money under instructions given to him by a mate to he handed over to a third party, that he did not put his mate through a “Spanish Inquisition”, then you must take his evidence at face value. After all he was hardly transacting moneys between criminals. Get all that?
From our own observation deck, it is abundantly clear that Racing Victoria has made several errors of judgment in their handling of the raft of integrity issues that have confronted Victorian racing in the latter half of 2012. It also equally clear that their decision makers and senior management have been ill-equipped to handle integrity issues of the magnitude that have confronted them. It is against this type of scenario that we suspect the decision was made to pursue Robert Smerdon. A combination of pressure from the highest levels of political influence and a much needed perception to be seen to be both in control of integrity and the necessity to send a red light warning of zero tolerance has produced an ill-conceived decision to charge Robert Smerdon.
It is a decision that Racing Victoria could regret, like the conga line of bungling in their handling of many of the serious integrity issues that made 2012 a year to forget in Victorian racing.
A MUST SEE TVN INTERVIEW
Over the holiday break, we had the good fortune to witness a repeat of Bruce Clark’s interview with HKJC Chief Executive Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges recorded during the recent Hong Kong International races.
The interview was a revelation. Whilst there are many differences between racing in Hong Kong and Australia at every level, the one point of difference which should out like the proverbial lighthouse beacon, was LEADERSHIP.
With any organization at any level in society, be it government, business, sporting or recreational, leadership is the one dynamic that can determine success or failure or stagnation.
It is the reason why Hong Kong racing is going ahead in leaps and bounds in just about every aspect of its operations and why Australian racing has been and continues to be in a permanent state of limbo and stagnation. Hear that Callander The Younger? And where the fuck were you hinding out when in Hong Kong? We were hoping to have a man to man conversation with you after his piece of parochial nonsense.
There is a fundamental and very stark difference, both in style and, importantly substance, between “Winnie” and the gaggle of “B” graders masquerading as CEOs in Australian racing. Bruce Clark’s interview with “Winnie”, exposed some of these key differences.
Where “spin” is an Australian Racing Executive’s best friend and guardian, and is used with monotonous regularity to “mask” deficiencies, promote selfish and self-serving personal and collective agendas that are not in the best interests of racing and fundamental intellectual deficiencies, the Hong Kong Jockey Club under “Winnie’s” leadership is all about the big picture. It is about strategy and vision, about an unwavering goal to be the world’s best. It is about growing the customer base, which is the first and critical step to growing the racing product and the revenue base. And the myriad of initiatives in marketing, technology and infrastructure that have been invested in and introduced in recent years, and which have proven to be successful, have validated the widely held view that unlike almost every other racing nation, Hong Kong is powering ahead.
Hong Kong has prioritized and importantly got its priorities right. It has avoided the destructive political fisticuffs that has become entrenched in the DNA of Australian racing both between States and within those States. Where the “customer” in Australia is relegated to the status of a “bottom feeder” in a very large ocean, and is treated with scant respect, if any, Hong Kong racing is ultra sensitive to its customer base. Contrast this environment with that in Australia, where the unhealthy power of the breeders determines everything from race programming, prize money to infrastructure spending and industry decision making, which has frequently been a significant road block to taking Australian racing to its next critical stage of development and progress.
Let’s also not forget another substantial point of difference. Nowhere in the Bruce Clark interview or in any transcript of any public address made by “Winnie”, have we ever heard or read about “the 50,000 industry participants”, that seems to spurt out the rear end of Racing NSW verbal diarrhoea. Nor are there any patronizing throw away lines and chest thumping about how much better “ozzie racing” is, and how “our Asian friends always want to work in with us”, while we here in Australia are a law above everyone else when it comes to playing within the rules of the International Federation of Horse Racing.
No, Hong Kong racing has long been spared spin doctors and out of work political hacks with their finger on the button of decision making.
We make NO apologies whatsoever for singing the praises of the Hong Kong Jockey Club under the leadership of Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges, below. We will continue to back-slap the brave men of racing, wherever they might be, who have the courage and vision to make a difference. We will continue to expose those that for a multitude of reasons are not up to these challenges. And particularly those that have dark agendas which are not in the best interests of racing. As for “Winnie” or “EB”, well, he’s like an ABBA song. This one.
TVN DEAL SIGNED, BUT IS IT SEALED?
Buried among all the clichés and spin about the “historic” deal between all the warring parties which has seemingly delivered an apparent does of finality to the cancerous dispute about vision rights for Victorian and NSW racing, is the reality that it is a marriage that will continue to be on the rocks unless some of the deck chairs (nominees for the revamped eight member TVN board), change.
The inconvenient truth is that among some of the names that are expected to be appointed to the new Board of TVN are those who can barely reveal their dislike and mistrust of each other. Their history of conflict has been simmering for some time, and boiled over when sensitive information was leaked in the Sydney media in an attempt to scuttle their possible appointments to the new Board.
An equally inconvenient truth was a throw away line from John “the messiah” Messara, who declared that a new “independent” Chairman of the Board would be needed when and if stalemates were reached between the Victorian and NSW members of the Board in the decision making process.
At least the “messiah” recognizes the fragility of the marriage of inconvenience. But the reality is that it is hardly the basis for a happy marriage, or for a peace treaty between warring factions and arch enemies.
What is of serious concern is also the fact that there have been loud murmurings from our NSW camp and one of their cheer leaders in Victorian radio about introducing a form of self-imposed censorship preventing TVN promoting corporate bookmakers. Interesting, given the long-expressed antipathy by Tabcorp and their allies in NSW towards TVN’s paid advertising promoting corporate bookmakers. Could it be all part of a peace deal to placate the powerful Tabcorp interests who own Sky and will possibly have to dig a bit deeper to purchase vision rights for Victorian and NSW racing?
If we were to gaze deeply into our crystal ball we would be giving reasonably generous odds about the TVN/Sky deal lasting. Not unless one possible appointee to the new Board and perhaps his Chairman could be persuaded to fall on their collective swords and let the ATC and Country representatives be the NSW appointees. And we will be giving even more generous odds about that happening.
So, fasten up your harnesses and get ready for a very rocky ride with racing vision in 2013.
SEYMOUR FRACAS: A BLIGHT ON AUSTRALIAN RACING AND SOCIETY
The reports filtering through the Victorian press about an all in vicious fracas involving around 40 racegoers at the Victorian provincial race meeting at Seymour a fortnight ago, surprised nobody. Racetracks increasingly have become the venue of choice for Christmas parties, “bucks nights” and celebrations of one form or another. But for all the so-called celebratory spirit that these functions supposedly commemorate, the alcohol and drug induced violence that they bring through the turnstiles, calls for an uncompromising zero tolerance approach by racing authorities towards these low lifes that seem to breeding like the proverbial flies in Australian society.
The racing industry must take a stand and give first time offenders a long term ban from race tracks. Repeat offenders must be given LIFE from the racetracks. Racing faces Everest like challenges to stay relevant and importantly to get the turnstiles ticking over. It does not alcohol and drug fuelled violence to further discourage people from enjoying a day out at the races.