Oliver saga poses questions

All smiles … Damien Oliver after winning the Emirates on Happy Trails.One of the more bizarre instances of the Damien Oliver debacle is the assertion that he used his mobile phone in or around the jockeys’ room before his controversial bet.

Receiving and transmitting information from that particular area, in Sydney anyway, has the potential to be on par with sending state secrets out of MI 5.

Historically, jockeys have been penned inside the dressing room until they finish their day’s engagements and, in the electronic era, have had to surrender mobile phones.

When telephones were restricted to walls and tables, ”signals” were designed for jockeys on horseback to trigger their financial supporters to take advantage of late inspiration.

It could come from a “try” by the trainer or advice received from opposition in the same race.

Thus breaching the security in the jockeys’ room was, and is, regarded as serious indeed and can carry a disqualification, but Victoria is renowned for dispensing racing justice with a feather.

On Tuesday, Oliver was charged with placing an illegal bet, $10,000, on a rival horse, Miss Octopussy, at Moonee Valley on October 1, 2010, when he finished sixth on second favourite Europa Point.

The bet was placed, the charge says, using a telephone “prior to the race won by Miss Octopussy”.

The Oliver case, amid allegations of delaying the charges so he could ride at the spring carnival, follows Dan Nikolic’s alleged outburst involving chief steward Terry Bailey, and the spate of stipe activity on recent race mornings, makes up probably the most controversial period in Australian turf history.

On Tuesday when the inquiry opens, light will be shed on why stewards couldn’t lodge a charge and stand Oliver down for the Flemington carnival.

Without his admission, Racing Victoria maintains it didn’t have the necessary evidence to take action.

Plea bargaining is being whispered, “eight to 12 months” the sentence. Blake Shinn did a year for being a punt drunk: betting with abandon but hardly with Ollie’s alleged conflict of interest.

Another question is why it was so easy for Ollie to just phone an agent to back Miss Octopussy?

And what does the punting public think of the situation?

“I’m new to racing and a friend encouraged me to buy a share in a horse that cost me $20k recently?” emailed “Confused”. “To say I’m infuriated and fearful of not getting a fair run for my investment is an understatement. The stewards are kidding themselves if they think this is a one-off and not widespread … ”

”The Oracle” adds: ”I don’t think jockeys should bet for or against their horse, I’ve heard all the arguments and none of them are strong. The problem is perception. It’s just not productive for the racing industry to have only commonsense participants and punters. You must include all the morons because they are your bread-and-butter customers … what do you expect they would think of a jockey betting on a horse, regardless of whether they ride it or not? If you lose them you will lose the majority of your revenue stream. Of course it’s widespread and some will get caught and many won’t but it has to get off the front pages.”

”AJ” chimes in: “When a jockey signs up for a licence to ride they agree to abide by the rules. Betting on any race in Australia is forbidden. Mandatory minimum penalties should be set. Bet on a race – one year. Bet on a race you’re riding in – five-year ban. Repeat offence adds extra three to five years to penalties.”

Certainly jockeys betting have been more subtle than drenching or milkshaking horses. Awareness has again risen in Victoria because of recent stable raids by Racing Victoria stewards.

“Intelligence” was an explanation by Bailey, the steward, regarding the recent outbreak. Maybe it was a tip-off more than official brain power.

Surely recent weeks have indicated NSW racing is run on a tighter rein and gets better results than Victoria, where the attitude has always been holier than thou.

In 2008, retired judge Gordon Lewis, in an integrity report, recommended wider drug testing of horses.

Racing Victoria chief Rob Hines said the most serious allegations were distressing but some of the evidence was historical.

“We lead the nation,” then Labor racing minister Rob Hulls decreed. “Mr Hulls has been asleep at the wheel while the racing industry has been in crisis,” countered Denis Napthine, the current minister.

Is it any better now?

Sydney’s jockey’s room is the target of constant raids and checks are made to safeguard the silence.

The urge to get the late mail out has always been strong. Signals were devised, including which hand the whip was carried in during the parade before the race, and doing up buttons on silks also gave out a message. Eagle-eyed officials were always on the lookout for leaks.

Colleague John Holloway had a habit of fiddling with his tie, and in the mounting enclosure before a Randwick race was confronted by Derek Glasgow, the Australian Jockey Club secretary, and accused of relaying messages to punters.

Once Larry Cassidy, the leading jockey at the time, was given immunity to have an incoming service, but it was limited to stockmarket moves. Information going out would have been more lucrative.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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