BACK WITH EXTRA BITE (AND MORE RELISH)
By Keyser Soze
MURRIHY’S WORDS OF WISDOM
He’s only been retired for a matter of weeks, but Racing NSW’s former Chief Steward Ray Murrihy is one of the most sought after “super sleuths” in what is fast becoming a corruption-riddled world of just about any sport which can be wagered on in Australia.
Like most of its global counterparts, Australian sport is rapidly becoming infected with, and dragged into a web of criminality and corruption where match fixing, the use of performance enhancing, and the ridiculously named “recreational” drugs is nearing rampant proportions.
Murrihy has been in the hot seat for most of his working life. He has pursued the cheats and criminal elements in NSW racing relentlessly since he stepped into the challenging role of Chief Steward, and during his time in the role, has taken no prisoners. Unlike his counterparts in other States, and particularly Victoria, Murrihy can never be accused of dragging the chain in ensuring investigations are concluded speedily and charges, where necessary, are laid with little time for the inevitable media circus which has been a striking feature of the protracted near year- long hiatus in the cobalt cases in Victoria and the second instalment of the circus about to begin with the appeals process about to commence.
To Murrihy’s credit, he dealt with the NSW cobalt cases in track record time, and, importantly, he prosecuted his cases successfully. No messing around here, and tolerating a disrespectful and anarchical social media outbreak of playing the man and not the ball. And this explains the respect that Murrihy has demanded and won from even his most notable adversaries, who at some stage have fallen foul of his fearless approach to upholding the integrity of racing.
But in some of his public comments since retiring, and in relation to the recent match fixing NRL allegations, Murrihy has been almost Django Unchained.
Free at last, free at last, he has exposed both the leadership and strategic vacuum which has afflicted Australian racing for such a long time. Racing’s inability to “sell” its simple and factual message: that Racing created the role of the steward to monitor and protect its integrity well over a century ago,and which has becomeits albatross.
Yes, Racing created the Stewards role, and why? Because, as Ray Murrihy put it so simply when interviewed by Paul Crawley in the Telegraph, “Racing started out with people gambling on horses, whereas football started out on the basis where it was a game and it is only in more recent times that sporting organizations not only footy codes but tennis, cricket that held out their hands and said ’we want part of the action’. And of course along with that comes the responsibility with the integrity of it”.
Incredulously, such a potent historical fact has escaped the bunkered up members of Racing Boards and their Chief Executives- and their henchmen and women of racing administrations- who have yet again failed to “seize the day” and use opportunities which are gifted to them in proactively defending the sport which pays their inflated remuneration packages. It is rare for racing to be able to beat its own drum about anything. And if past history is any guide, nothing will change.
Racing the world over has been painfully slow to point to the bleeding obvious historical fact that because of its inextricable link with the gambling model on which it was, and continues to be based, it had integrity processes in place long before every other sport had a “white light” moment, and, before you could even say “Usain Bolt”, the horse had literally bolted and systemic corruption had already infiltrated the games, which had, what we now recognize as a delusional pristine misconception about them. No, sport and games are no longer played for the “outdated” spirit of competition where the best man or woman or team emerged as victor. That was pre-sports betting days. Ask Sepp The Blatterer.
Perhaps the headline grabbing racing media types at News Limited can take up on this theme and pontificate in their waffling editorial pieces which no one other than the declining numbers of largely semi-literate racing fans read, or, for their sins, are punished when they switch on their racing radio or television stations and see and hear the same buffoons using racing’s version of pidgin English and continue their meaningless gibberish.
Murrihy also makes the very valid point about the impact of exotic betting options on match fixing in sport. It is the very reason why Racing has to join the fight with every other sport across the world and regulate against insidious betting types like in-play betting, or in racing, the betting on the run exotic product. It is yet another reason why the Racing.com arrangement with corporate bookmakers – selling their soul to the highest bidder from the corporate bookmaking sector, who are lobbying hard to introduce these insidious forms of gambling- is so flawed.
Gambling, once confined by borders to each country, has been globalized for a considerable time, something which has escaped the mindset of administrators who congregate at their regular gabfests and pass meaningless resolutions to dismantle illegal billion dollar turnover corporate bookmaking organizations operating out of countries like the Philippines and in Caribbean tax havens. They talk the talk, but are hobbled. Why? Most are either cut off at the knees, and up the bloody Khyber in their thinking.
The Australian’s Brendan Cormick, a highly respected racing writer, conducted a brilliant interview with Ray Murrihy in which he articulated, very succinctly, the challenges facing racing and, in particular, its integrity function. “The last two years of my life have been about dealing with cobalt and the law on a daily basis. It has just been incessant, you can’t detach yourself from it. It’s important for racing that these matters are dealt with and that we get to the bottom of it and the people guilty of offences are given appropriate punishment”.
It is a difficult proposition to argue against. Yet more than ever, and with the development of social media, the court of public opinion, has assumed a significant role and a loud voice in challenging, often without any factual or logical basis, the judgements of the law enforcing arm of racing.
With public expectation and scrutiny of the conduct of racing at unprecedentedly high levels, Murrihy rightly points to how racing deals with a plethora of important social and community issues such as welfare both staff and equine, employee rights and compliance with government regulators reflected in the rules of racing.
But the most telling point made by Murrihy is what he describes as the decline in “the level of respect for officials charged with policing sports over the past decade, coinciding with the growth of social media”. To blame social media alone would be to ignore completely the abject failure of the governing bodies of racing, in particular to protect its officials from public vilification in the conduct of what unquestionably is the most difficult job in racing.
Where other sports and some prominent international racing administrations strictly police a code of participant and player behaviour towards stewards, umpires and officials, Australian racing, and specifically Victorian racing, has been derelict in its duty and obligations towards establishing an environment of respect for both the institution and its stewards and officials. And in this instance, not just from licensed persons and their increasingly vocal Goonish Ying Tong cheer squads, but from a section of the racing media whose headline-grabbing agendas fuel the flames of fires which need to be fought with water and not fire.
They have literally thrown their Chief Steward under the proverbial freight train making him Chief spokesman about anything and everything from stewarding to policy. He is de facto Chief Executive and might as well keep the seat warm for the next six months or so. Having said this, he should know better. He’s been sucker punched and has allowed himself to be played all wrong. Egg on his face? More of an omelette. And it will not go away.
Meanwhile, the inevitable archiving of whips in racing is acknowledged by Murrihy. “In 2008 when we brought in the first whip restrictions which I thought were overdue, Australian racing was typified around the world as whip happy. If we think we can operate in a vacuum we’ll finish up being a cottage industry. If we don’t pay regard to welfare matters, it will be at our peril. If we don’t ourselves, the next time we’ll be sitting in the back seat, not the driver’s seat.
“I think there is a difficulty in racing with racing people in that we live in a bit of a vacuum. We socialize in racing circles and tend to believe the rest of the world revolves around us. Whereas point of fact we’re a very small part of the community”.
And it’s not just the administrators but every participant, licensed or otherwise, and every self-important racing commentator who needs to step outside that protective vacuum and recognize that racing is its own worst enemy in having a mature conversation with itself, let alone the world at large.
Clint Hutchinson’s analysis of the Hong Kong races on racing.com is already gaining traction. With his Hong Kong background and knowledge of its racing and affinity with the cameras- he’s likeable as opposed to coming across like Whatever Happened To Baby Jane or Joan Crawford looking for coat hangers.
Clint is adding a welcome and positive dimension to the coverage. The Happy Wednesday nights coverage is still stunted by the hysterical- hysterical in all its manifestations- race calling of Squadron Leader John Blance- and, why oh why the young and very good Anthony Manton, below, was passed over by the HKJC to work alongside the vastly improved Brett Davis is mind-boggling. Let’s not even get into why that disaster called Racing To Win- a certainty for its audience of twenty to lose if watched and the “tips” followed- is still being produced.
As for Clint’s followers, they would have landed the Early Quaddie if they had taken a multi bet with his selections at last Wednesday night’s Happy Valley meeting. Wait: You had no idea that there’s an Early Quaddie, right?
A wonderful return to the training and racing ranks for our old mate Tony Vasil, training his first winner since his comeback with his first starter, the 8-year-old sprinter General Truce.
Tony’s return after a two year break from training for health and well-being reasons sparked an avalanche of goodwill and well wishers. Michael Felgate’s unfortunate, spur of the moment faux pas when interviewing Vasil after his triumphant return was unintentional, and his genuine public apology accepted, despite the attempts by one or two agenda-driven individuals to make a mountain out of a molehill and demonize Felgate.
So, Peter Moody is on the payroll of Ladbrokes. Interesting for a bloke who when the Racing NSW driven war with the corporate bookmakers over product fees was being fought out bitterly in every battleground possible, was firmly on the side of the gamekeepers and not the poachers. He was was also prepared to add his name to public statements in the fight against the product fee stoush against the corporates.My, my, how times have changed. Apparently, gamekeepers can now join the other side.
John Moore’s recent domination of the Hong Kong Derby and the middle and staying domestic Group Ones, and his successful targeting of the December Internationals in the same distance range, could continue with two strong contenders in the new Hong Kong season. Last Saturday’s dominant winner of the Queensland Derby – Eagle Way is owned by John and destined for the Hong Kong Derby next March. He could be next season’s Werther. Likewise, Montaigne, the highly promising rising four year old purchased out of Anthony Cummings’ yard who would also be heading towards the Derby.
With three days of Ascot already part of history, the general consensus appears to be the lack of a genuine standout performer with the possible exception of Galileo Gold, ironically, not sired by the great Coolmore poster boy Galileo, but by Paco Boy instead. The soft track conditions from day one could have contributed to the flop by the world’s top rated racehorse- the Japanese super star A Shin Hikari in the Group One prince of Wales Stakes. And what about Hong Kong’s Gold-Fun? How will he do on Saturday and why’s he even there? Hmmmmm?