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ANOTHER SETBACK IN NIKOLIC LEGAL BID TO RETURN TO RACE RIDING

DANNY NIKOLIC has lost a legal bid to get his riding license back, with a Tribunal member saying she does not believe the former jockey has changed enough to return to work following a history of abusive exchanges with officials.

JANE LEE reports for FAIRFAX MEDIA that Nikolic has been banned from racing since September 2015, when the Racing Victoria Board denied him a riding licence because it decided he was not a "fit and proper person to ride in races".

Victoria's highest court overturned a decision that a police ban against former top jockey Danny Nikolic was unlawful.

He has faced disciplinary charges for fighting with another jockey, failing to obey stewards' directions, and using insulting language.

VCAT Deputy President, Heather Lambrick, ruled on Wednesday that he was still not a "fit and proper person" and of good character, which is now required to obtain a licence.

He had regularly abused and swore at a range of people involved in racing from a car park attendant to the Chief Steward, Terry Bailey, who he directed his most "most florid abuse" towards.

Ms Lambrick did not think that Mr Nikolic could follow stewards' directions in future, which was required of all jockeys.

Stewards made critical decisions that went to the heart of the integrity of racing, she said, and they could not be made subject to threats and intimidation.

Ms Lambrick said: "Racing Victoria submits that Mr Nikolic has a history of violent, intimidating and aggressive conduct which extends beyond the racing industry."

She said that she was not prepared to ignore his behaviour in his private life, saying it showed "a consistency of conduct which is reflective of the character of Mr Nikolic".

While some years had passed since his previous transgressions, she said: "They were not isolated incidents. They were not one-offs.

"In these circumstances, I am not persuaded that the passage of time, in and of itself, can lead me to conclude that Mr Nikolic is a changed man."

During the VCAT hearing, Nikolic conceded he believed Chief Steward Terry Bailey was corrupt, which showed he did not accept "the validity or integrity of the very organisation from whom he seeks a licence".

Mr Bailey previously told the tribunal he would resign if Mr Nikolic returned to racing.

Ms Lambrick accepted that the racing industry could be more accepting of "robust language" than other industries, and that Mr Nikolic had "expressed himself colourfully " since he was young, but said he had "taken it to new heights.

His language, particularly towards stewards, flows from him in an unrestrained and seemingly unprecedented manner."

He also previously lied during disciplinary proceedings against him, disregarded court orders and had a violent history, she said. Mr Nikolic's criminal record includes breaching apprehended violence orders, drink driving, and using a carriage service to menace or offend.

"Taken collectively, they give the impression that Mr Nikolic is prepared to do what he wants, when he wants, regardless of the rules, the stewards' expectations and the way this may reflect on the racing industry," she said.

"None of this conduct is befitting to an experienced jockey."

She noted that Mr Nikolic rarely took full responsibility for his past mistakes, and still considered himself a victim of unfair treatment, which showed in his current negative views towards Racing Victoria officials.

He also often justified his own actions by blaming others for provoking him.

Ms Lambrick said that the counselling he had attended would not prevent future misconduct.

Despite Mr Nikolic's belief that accomplished jockeys could afford to be less formal to race officials, she said "the reverse is probably true – that he should understand the pressures and complexities of race days and the procedures required and act more respectfully."

Ms Lambrick acknowledged that preventing Mr Nikolic from working in his chosen profession could have serious financial and personal impacts on him, and expressed some sympathy for the pressure he had previously faced after the breakdown of his marriage, during racing integrity inquiries into his conduct which he was later exonerated for, and the murder of his father-in-law.

The state's highest court last year also upheld a police ban on Mr Nikolic attending race courses, which he is currently challenging in the High Court.

Ms Lambrick said: "Racing Victoria submits that Mr Nikolic has a history of violent, intimidating and aggressive conduct which extends beyond the racing industry."

She said that she was not prepared to ignore his behaviour in his private life, saying it showed "a consistency of conduct which is reflective of the character of Mr Nikolic."

 

MATTHEW HILL RIGHT CHOICE TO REPLACE GREG MILES AS TOP CALLER

FROM a punters’ perspective MATTHEW HILL looks the right choice to replace Greg Miles as the leading race-caller in Victoria.

The only lingering doubt in the back of some of our minds is the fact that Hill did walk away from a high profile calling job with SKY Channel.

On the plus side full marks to those responsible for making the replacement on two fronts – firstly the elevation of Terry Bailey to senior race caller and secondly the retainment of the services of Miles in non-race calling duties.

Hill, 36, who takes over from Miles late next month, has called races in 10 countries and one of a number of local and international applicants for the prized role.

As head caller for SKY Racing, Hill called five Golden Slippers and Australian Derbys, before a shock decision in late 2014 to call a temporary halt as he ventured to Melbourne to explore sport broadcasting for the ABC, including AFL.

“I love horse racing and have always wanted to be a race caller,” Hill told the Herald Sun. “Being from Melbourne, this has always been the role that meant the most to me.

“From when I was a young lad walking onto Flemington I was always fascinated by the sound of the races and those that called the action.

“To take the baton from Greg Miles, an iconic figure in Australian broadcasting is an honour, a privilege and a rare responsibility. This is a lifetime’s dream come true and I cannot wait to start.”

Miles described Hill’s decision to walk away in 2014 as “a great loss’’ to racing and welcomed his return. “He has the right temperament and is the right age to have a long and successful career,’’ he said.

The appointment of Hill as chief caller will bring change to the structure of race calling in Victoria, with the workload to be spread between the top caller and the team underneath him.

Stalwart Terry Bailey has been appointed senior race caller, will call most Friday nights – which had been Miles’ domain – and will act as mentor to junior callers.

 

POPPING OF CHAMPAGNE BY 'COBALT TRAINERS' A SHADE PREMATURE?

By TERRY BUTTS of the NQ REGISTER

THE bombshell decision to uphold the appeals by trainers Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh in the multi-million dollar cobalt inquiry has thrown the Victorian racing industry into tumult.

It was a decision generally not expected and became a topic of much hostile debate.

An ebullient O’Brien, in an amazing public outburst, boasted his “complete innocence” and audaciously labelled the Chief Steward of Victoria Terry Bailey 'a liar'.

But any popping of champagne by the trainers might be a tad premature.

Racing Victoria, which has reputedly spent $6 million in pursuit of these trainers (whose horses mind you returned cobalt reading of 100 times over the normal and accepted limit), is seriously considering an appeal to the Supreme Court which, of course, might take a totally different view to Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal judge Greg Garde who found “the procedure for testing for cobalt in equine urine... departed from the requirements in the Rules of Racing".

"The legal consequence is that the test results are inadmissible,” he said.

O’Brien and Kavanagh were appealing a four and three year disqualification handed down by Racing Victoria’s RAD last year.

Both trainers have claimed they did not know the contents of a bottle administered to their horses by their vet. They also claimed they did not know the cobalt content in a bottle of vitamins.

O'Brien has also accused RV of bullying and intimidation but singled out Chief Steward Terry Bailey for most criticism.

He has called on Racing Minister Martin Pakula to step in and “fix the mess”.

Racing Victoria acting CEO Giles Thompson said the organisation was surprised and disappointed, but pointed out the decision had been made on a technicality.

“These horses had a reading of cobalt nearly 100 times over an average natural cobalt reading,” he said.

Besides, of course, there is a Rule that states a trainer is responsible for any horse that goes to the races with a banned treatment or substance.

It doesn’t matter who administered it.

Not surprisingly, Peter Moody, also disqualified over anexcessive cobalt reading but did not appeal, said he would be reconsider his position in the wake of the ruling.

Moody said it was too early to make any decisions. "I am just playing a straight bat to all questions and seeing what happens.”

Thompson said Racing Victoria was also considering its options.

"It was  entirely appropriate that Racing Victoria prosecuted this case, and it was proven to be such at the RAD hearing that found the duo guilty last year. 

“We have lost an appeal case at VCAT on the basis of a technicality around the interpretation of a specific rule of racing," he said.

Said O’Brien: "We are going to read the judgement. The summary from Garde was very strong that we were completely innocent and Racing Victoria has got issues.”

Completely innocent is an interpretation of the decision that could be argued.

One thing is certain, however. The cobalt saga is not over yet. We await news of an appeal to the Supreme Court by Racing Victoria or a compensation claim by the two trainers.

The only winner?

Lawyers, of course!

 

OFFICIALS ‘SIT ON THEIR HANDS’ AS THE TRACK JOKE GOES ON AT FARM

RARELY a week goes by when there isn’t a complaint to the WHINGE WHEN YOU WANT section of this website about the new EAGLE FARM track.

This week was no exception and those who wrote were far from complimentary about steps being taken to address the issue by those in charge of racing in Queensland.

Unless something is done to correct the situation there are fears that Queensland will be the laughing stock of Australian racing come Winter Carnival time.

ROB ALLEN of GOLD COAST writes:

‘THERE are two certainties in racing in Brisbane – punters will continue to lose confidence in the local product and the Eagle Farm track will do nothing to win them back.

Brisbane Racing Club chairman Neville Bell has to be living in dream land if he genuinely believes that rank and file punters still prefer betting at Eagle Farm despite criticism of the new track.

Of all the TAB tracks in south-east Queensland, Eagle Farm is the one that punters have the least confidence in at present – and so do the majority of stakeholders, including trainers and jockeys, whether they want to publicly admit it or not.

Mr Bell is either listening to the wrong people or those who are talking to him about the track aren’t prepared to hurt his feelings or admit what they really think about it.

What many stakeholders are quietly claiming is that the problems at the Farm are ‘man made’ but it is like the situation at Flemington where officials immediately shut down any criticism of those responsible for preparing the track.

Even the mainstream media, normally reluctant to bag anything bad about the Brisbane Racing Club, has joined a chorus of criticism since Eagle Farm was re-opened 10 months ago.

Mr Bell says confidentiality prevents him from revealing turnover figures but claims that betting at Eagle Farm on Saturday, March 4, was up by five per cent. One swallow doesn’t make a summer and there was obviously some inexplicable reason for that. One thing’s for sure it wasn’t confidence in the track – perhaps punters were dodging the wet track in Sydney.

But it doesn’t alter the fact that turnover on Queensland racing is down alarmingly and that has been largely blamed on lack of punter confidence in betting at Eagle Farm.

One thing’s for sure if they don’t get the surface right by carnival time Brisbane will be a major embarrassment when the national spotlight focuses in the Winter.’

AND this email from MURRAY DEAN of BRISBANE:

‘HOPE you caught up with Monday’s racing at Eagle Farm on the Soft 5 track.

It looked and raced like a rice paddy (with sincere apologies to respectable rice fields).

This is the dynamic new track that was going to be the future of Queensland Racing. If that is the case then those responsible from the top down should be dismissed forthwith.

Not only is it continuing to make this State the laughing stock of Australian Racing it is also a gross misuse of public funds.

We were told by all the usual spin doctors that it would consolidate into the best track in Australia. What have they got to say now? Very little I would guess. Wonder if they will add to their resumes an entry about how they rebuilt the Eagle Farm track? I think not!’

         

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