HAS SUPER SAL GOT IT RIGHT?
The much anticipated report into Race Fixing on Victorian racetracks finally saw the light of day on Wednesday. Curiously titled “The Own Motion Inquiry into Race Fixing” it was compiled by the equally curiously named Sal Perna, the Racing Integrity Commissioner in Victoria.
One of the key findings of the report, and one which has disappointed those blood thirsty media hounds, is that there was “no evidence of systemic corruption” in Victorian racing. Phew! We can hear the loud and collective sighs of relief coming out of the State Government and Racing Minister Denis Napthine’s office. And specifically out of Racing Victoria and its executive team.
But, we’re not really surprised. Imagine the fallout if “Super Sal” had even faintly equivocated and had an each way bet on that one. On balance though many of the recommendations offer up no surprises. They stood out like the proverbial dogs gonads.
The significance of some of his observations and conclusions, however, are as important, if not more important, than the recommendations.
Take this one: “The result of being in this role for almost three years is that I have formed the view that we are at a ‘watershed moment’ in racing in this State. While I have seen a great deal of excellent work undertaken by controlling bodies and other key stakeholders, much has been REACTIVE (our choice of capital highlighting) and now requires major reform to address new and emerging needs. The public confidence in integrity in racing has been damaged and the time is right for cultural, organizational and legislative change to restore that confidence—-“.
Surely, even the simplest mind will be able to decode Perna’s telling conclusion. It is the crux of the problem that the Oz racing industry faces.
Being REACTIVE is deeply embedded in the DNA of the Boards and Management of Governing Bodies, not just in Victoria, but in NSW and in every Australian state.
It is why racing has been done over by other sports. It is why racing has been light years behind its competitors. It is why racing has become irrelevant to the past two or three generations. It is why the public has lost confidence in racing. It is why racing needs to be put into long term intensive care for specialist surgery and long term rehabilitation.
If this message doesn’t sink into the Board and Executive Management team at Racing Victoria, then Racing Minister Denis Napthine must step in and demand the changes in personnel both at Board and Management level. Perna is right, racing is at a watershed moment in Victoria. And before the boffins at Druitt Street in NSW start gloating and feeling a sense of comfort from the glare of the spotlight being turned on their counterparts, Perna’s conclusions apply equally here in NSW.
Napthine must immediately put in place some KPI’s to “keep the bastards honest”. Racing Victoria and its Chief Executive Bernard “the plodder” Saundry, below in a new daggy shirt, must be directed to develop a strategy to address the “cultural, organizational and legislative changes” and develop PROACTIVE strategies to lift racing out of the doldrums and begin its slow but steady rise from the ashes.
From where we sit, there is absolutely no doubt that Victorian racing still has much to offer. It has lost its way in recent times, but it can and must bounce back. Sal Perna’s report and some of his recommendations are a very good starting point. You could not argue with these conclusions. They may not be palatable to the Racing Victoria Board and its executive team, but at least unlike some of their neighbours, Australian racing is very much subject to public and regulatory scrutiny, although that may not always be the case in NSW.
Public Inquiries and Reviews do sometimes expose deficiencies, incompetence and illegal activities that may tarnish the image of racing. But at least they provide an opportunity for wrongs to be made right. Victorian racing has a tantalizing opportunity to do just that.
JUST ANOTHER TALKFEST WITH A DIFFERENT NAME
This, year it’s Melbourne’s turn at hosting yet another racing talkfest – the two day Australian Racing Conference scheduled for the third week in February at their very own Grand Hyatt. It was Sydney’s turn last year supported with Mexican-wave type enthusiasm by Racing NSW and it’s master spinmeister – Peter “the not so great” V’landys.
Not surprisingly, Racing Victoria takes on the role of “hostess with the mostest” this year. Why? God only knows and even the almighty would be all the heavenly intellects He can muster to work out the purpose of such a pointless gabfest.
The keynote topics and sessions are the usual suspects on the agendas of these wretched talkfests for an eternity. Such riveting subjects as “Engaging Fans in a Digital World and Digital Technology’s impact on Media Business models now and in the future”, “The changing media landscape”, “Digital media and its implications”, “Taking Australian Racing to the world”, “Recognizing Racing’s key assets and how to use them”, “Turning customers into advocates”, “What do our customers want”.
All very relevant and important topics, which are intrinsically relevant to the success or otherwise of the marketing of racing. Only one major problem though. These subjects have been on the agendas of these talkfests for several years now and have been debated ad nauseum during this time. And yet there is absolutely no evidence that any of these “pearls of wisdom” coming out of the highly-paid speakers with their self-proclaimed reputations stretching the lengths of the Hume Highway have been successfully transplanted into the racing industry.
The session headers actually give the game away. The very fact that Racing Conferences are still coming to grips with such topics and issues is a telling indictment of the racing industry itself- subjects tackled by the advertising and music industries for over a decade and still discussed ‘cos those still in charge of these industries are knobs and dullards. Same with the Oz racing industry and those leading it down the toilet. Again and again.
Racing is still bogged down and trapped in a time warp. It has been lost in translation for decades and with no real evidence that it is capable of coming out of its cryonic type state. Ever. Where other sports and its competitors actually know “what our customers want”, and have been on to it in a very on-going and proactive way, racing is still trying unsuccessfully to come to grips with such fundamental questions.
If by now, racing does not know what its customers, present and future want, then it may as well hoist the white flag and plead for mercy. If it does not know what its key assets are and how to use them, then the mercy rule should be administered to its key administrators and management. If it isn’t up to speed with the impact of digital technology and digital media and the changing media landscape then it is guilty of gross incompetence and should be penalized accordingly. The administrators are quick to use the popular phrase du jour “zero tolerance” when it puts on its John Wayne style suit of armour and talks tough sheriff style. Perhaps it is time to apply zero tolerance to incompetent administrators.
The problem with the racing industry, more than any of its competitors, is that it so lacks men and women of competence and courage at board and management level that it is completely incapable of taking the industry forward in any shape or form at any level of administration. Racing stumbles at every hurdle that it encounters and has been doing so for a very long time.
Racing Conferences and talkfests are little more than a series of annual or biennial exercises of smoke and mirrors where the racing industry can been seen to be tapping into the channels of modern commercial thinking about how to do business. It is nothing more than camouflage, evidenced clearly that racing is going nowhere and is being marginalized and given a decent flogging by Aussie Rules, the NRL, Soccer, Tennis, Cricket, Basketball and wait for it, even Cycling despite being riddled with rampant doping problems.
The Australian Racing Conference in February will be little more than an opportunity for racing administrators and associated hangers- on and the liberal sprinkling of sycophants to gather for their annual meaningless talkfest, consume copious quantities of boutique beers, get whacked and pretend that they have really taken something positive out of the two days.
Racing really doesn’t get it.
O’BRIEN TESTS ANOTHER RACING VICTORIA BUNGLE
If Racing Victoria Stewards continue to bungle their Integrity procedures and investigations as they have been doing over then past several months, they will create an administrative and management level playing field with Racing NSW.
Their latest indiscretion, and an inexcusable one at that, was their handling of the “detention” of two of Danny O’Brien’s runners at Flemington last Saturday. It sent the world of twitter and text messaging into meltdown on Saturday night and all of Sunday as the “twittering twots” had a feeding frenzy with their very personal and largely one sided takes on “O’Briengate”.
But, to put it bluntly, Danny O’Brien does himself no favours. From what we have been told by Sydney and Melbourne trainers, “Danny Boy’s” fan club would struggle to fill an old fashioned telephone booth. He is racing’s self-proclaimed knight in shining armour when it comes to integrity matters. His outspoken comments about his fellow trainers and, in particular, one very high profile leading trainer cost him a very close friendship with this particular trainer who knows all about knights in white satin!
Judging by some of the twitter and text messages, you could hear the champagne corks popping all over Melbourne. The gatekeeper of virtue and integrity had tripped up in front of that Racing Victoria Integrity bus, and his many detractors and enemies were punching the air and popping the Moet and Veuve in celebration like Kool And The Gang on acid..
O’Brien had four runners at Flemington on Saturday – two of which, The New Boy and Kutchinsky were well fancied in the market, with the former running a close second and Kutchinsky brilliantly ridden to win his first race since entering the O’Brien stable and in just over two years. Both horses were detained on course for post race testing, and stewards and veterinary surgeons visited O’Brien’s on course Flemington stables for further investigations.
The Age and Fairfax media racing journalist Patrick Bartley quoted Racing Victoria’s Chief Steward Terry Bailey saying that a pre-race screening of The New Boy indicated a rise in the horse’s TCO2 (bicarbonate) levels. “When we get elevated levels, we thought that there was enough to go on with the process. It’s on a screen so we’ll know more when the results come back on Wednesday. Not that The New Boy had any excessive levels from the tests we took”, Bailey is quoted as telling Bartley.
C’mon Terry, make up your fucking mind, mate. What in pidgin English are you trying to tell us? The New Boy’ sTCO2 levels were elevated but not excessive? So why the song and dance and media histrionics that you had detained O’Brien’s horses, one of which (Kutchinsky), we presume, did not have levels which were “elevated” or “excessive”? When O’Brien called your bluff Terry and demanded racing Victoria CEO Bernard “the plodder” Saundry fast track the release of the test results on Monday, which proved negative, you were left with a six egg omelette on your face.
By going public on such paltry, flimsy and dubious evidence, you have clearly made a serious error of judgment. You look like a right knob. Going public can only be justified if a horse had tested positive and over the TCO2 threshold limit in the original pre-race screening test and has been detained or impounded for further post-race testing. Going the early crow in such a gung ho fashion can only prejudice the already battered image of racing, notwithstanding the damage that has been to the trainer – Danny O’Brien and his reputation which, to date, is unblemished. O’Brien is justifiably ropable. Surely as the gatekeeper of the integrity of racing you should know better, Terry?
Interestingly, Danny O’Brien’s, initial response, which he tweeted on Saturday night and picked by Bartley in his column stated: “kudos to (Racing Victoria chief steward) Terry bailey and his team, ramping up the testing regime. Very happy to see them target testing winning stables”.
In politics, they say a week is a long time. In racing it appears a day or two is a long time, a week . an eternity. Danny O’ Brien’s mood changed dramatically after he listened to an interview conducted by none other than Herald Sun racing journo Matt “the village idiot” Stewart, below, on Melbourne’s Radio Sports National, the station whose listening audience resembles attendance at a mid-week Victorian or NS country race meeting. Putting on his best attempt at doing a Kerry O’Brien on the 7.30 Report or Tony Jones on Lateline, and in a rare attempt at investigative reporting, Stewart put Terry Bailey under a padded whip over the whole sorry stuff-up.
Bailey just couldn’t help himself. Call it sheer naivety, stupidity, or arrogance, but Bailey was expansive, puffing his chest and eager to reiterate his role as racing’s chief cop and guardian of integrity. Fast track to Tuesday’s Herald Sun and later on Shane Anderson’s radio program, O’Brien did not hold back. His mood was darker than the dark side of the moon. Gone was the “kudos” that he generously bestowed on Bailey and his team.
“The last 48 hours has been disastrous for my stable, since news of this testing was put in the public arena. The innuendo has been constant and utterly unfair and unnecessary. When does RVL ever show any discretion? I have an unblemished record yet I had to endure this nonsense”. He went on to tell Stewart that he was “dumbfounded” at the rationale for the testing of horses and how, according to Bailey, that “O’Brien had a successful day”.
“Isn’t that what we all aim to do? Have a successful day?” And then “Bailey also said a reason was that the horses were well backed. What? I can’t control if punters reckon my horses should be well backed”, he was quoted as telling Stewart.
“O’Brien TKO’s Bailey” could well have been the headline, rather than “O’Brien slams RVL”.
Perhaps Danny O’Brien might learn from this. Being the self-proclaimed gatekeeper of integrity among trainers can sometimes come back and bite you on the arse. He might also now understand how some of his fellow trainers and one particular ex-mate felt when he had to endure similar innuendoes and rumours over a “positive” , which was deemed by the Disciplinary Board to have not been deliberately administered.
From where Bailey sits there is precious little he can learn from this that he would or should not have already known. It’s called common sense, which is a mandatory requirement of being a Chief Steward. It is about not only being hard and tough but fair, but about being seen to be tough- but fair. It is about earning respect. And you don’t earn respect if you behave as if you are above the laws of racing. No, it’s not, and has never been a popularity contest, and inevitably there are many who will seek to undermine you at every opportunity.
BUT if you treat everyone with the respect they deserve until they “out” themselves then it significantly dilutes the impact of those that attempt to destabilize those whose responsibility it is to police the rules and uphold the integrity of racing.
Grandstanding will make you a nowhere man ,Terry. We have witnessed it first-hand in NSW and watched a 360-degree turnaround.
Ask yourself this question, Terry: Have you ever made a mistake and stuffed up just like every other licensed person in racing? Work it out from there and you may just resurrect your reputation and that of your “team”.