THE Australian and international horse racing fraternity can learn much from what Victoria has achieved. That does not mean there is nothing left for Victoria to learn from the rest of the racing world.

Racing Victoria is lucky to have a chairman with the political background and foresight of Michael Duffy and a chief steward with the enthusiasm and integrity of Terry Bailey. Both have endless talent and are the best in their field in this country.

They oversee some of the best race meetings in the world, arguably the best carnival in the world and provide a product that is the envy of the racing world. But even they would agree there is always room for improvement.

That makes it so much harder to fathom what can only be interpreted by outsiders as an attempt by sections of the racing fraternity in Victoria to stifle debate on a number of issues designed to improve the image of their great product.

When Terry Bailey returned from a fact-finding overseas trip with what the media labeled a ‘wish list’ for racing in Victoria, all hell broke loose. Sure some of the issues he raised were innovative and somewhat controversial, but what did they expect?

If Bailey had simply filed a mission statement that resembled a ‘Getaway and Go Racing’ travelogue the critics would have accused him of enjoying an overseas junket at industry expense. Instead he has come under unwarranted attack for completing the brief that RVL requested.

One gets the impression that the appointment of Bailey never sat well with some stakeholders who got into a ‘comfort zone’ under the chief stewardship of Des Gleeson. Bailey could not be more different – but that doesn’t mean his approach won’t work.

It will just take a little longer to be accepted if the critics continue to eat away at his credibility, which is unquestionable. In the eyes of the national punting public, Bailey is a winner and the industry in Victoria should be thankful for that. Respect is hard to come by for stewards – just ask some of those who worked further north in recent years.

Instead of trying to earn Brownie Points, some of the supposed high profile racing writers who have attacked Bailey should have portrayed his observations of the overseas trip as a ‘floating of ideas’ not ‘prospective policy structure’. His random thoughts should not have been interpreted as future policy.

Bailey copped a media bashing for suggesting industry debate on a lock down of runners 24 hours before the Melbourne Cup, something that happens in some countries overseas. He has been an unashamed advocate for the trialing of un-raced horses – an area that has left racing in Victoria open to national criticism and its trainers the butt of many punting jokes.

But to suggest that Bailey was attempting to create policies on those two issues is an insult to the Integrity Sub Committee and its chairman Michael Duffy who have the final say when it comes to policy. Having said that, one would expect they would value his opinions.

The role that some sections of the media have played in this whole affair has been unusual and rather shameful. There seems to be some under-lying reason behind their unwarranted and continued attack on the credibility of a Chief Steward who the majority of punters regard as the best in the land.

Patrick Bartley from The Sunday Age decided to earn a few Brownie Points by attacking Bailey. He writes for the Melbourne newspaper that the racing industry deserted in droves when it decided there was no merit in running a regular form guide.

Bartley described Bailey as a ‘disciple’ of ‘The Sherriff’ – John Schreck – suggesting he was ‘cut from the same cloth’ as his former boss, who was ‘known for going on the front foot and embracing newspaper headlines.’ Wonder how he would describe Ray Murrihy?

Sydneysider Max Presnell, a well-known and respected racing scribe, pointed out to Bartley that Schreck was also renowned for ‘getting to the bottom of the Fine Cotton and Jockey Tapes scandals – tasks (Presnell claimed were) too difficult for his Melbourne counterparts.’ One suspects there is more than a bit of interstate rivalry in Max’s comments.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Bartley made a prize goose of himself when he accused Bailey of managing, in the space of three days, to disenfranchise trainers and a large proportion of owners in the Victorian racing industry.

One gets the impression that poor Patrick was still suffering the after-effects of being scooped on the much-read story emanating from Bailey’s overseas trip and written by his rival Adrian Dunn in the Herald Sun.

Ego bent or whatever, Bartley went on the attack: ‘Melbourne Cup lockdowns, the need for vast amounts of money to be spent on drug testing, and claims that if a core of leading trainers accept radical change ‘the rest’' will follow is just a sample of what Bailey proposes.

‘However, the question that has puzzled those in the corridors of power, owners, trainers and the industry at large is, as chief steward is Bailey a policy maker or a policy enforcer?

‘Is he, a paid servant of Racing Victoria, to be a steward or does his role overlap into the realms of a decision maker that has the same clout as a chief executive, or even the legal general counsel?’

At no stage did Bartley personally quote ‘those in the corridors of power’ who were allegedly critical of Bailey. Now they wouldn’t be ‘faceless’ people keen to discredit a young chief steward going places who has put a few noses out of joint among industry stakeholders since he took over, would they?

There was even criticism of Bailey for orchestrating a testing raid on a training centre early on New Year’s Day with suggestions it was not in the yuletide spirit. Would these same critics expect the police not to operate Random Breath Tests during the holiday break? Of the 31 tested, there was not a single positive.

Perhaps those complaining should move to the Deep North where staff at a prominent stable told of a situation that occurred some years ago when the cousin of an Integrity Department officer would warn them of up-coming raids after being tipped off in plenty of time.

Rather than allocate further valuable space to Bartley’s rant and rave, we thought the response of Bailey was priceless when asked to comment on the Sunday Age article: ‘I don’t read The Age and I don’t think that will change.’ Enough said!

Adding even more embarrassment to the Bartley tirade were the comments from leading trainer Lee Freedman when asked what Racing Victoria must address as the No 1 priority in 2010.

Freedman declared that money must be found to increase drug research and testing (an area criticized in the Sunday Age article). The Hall of Fame trainer said Victoria was ‘ancient history’ with regard to drug research.

“We would be living in a vacuum to think there is nothing going on and they have to be given the resources to stop it,” Freedman said. “If you only have a laboratory where there is one person fiddling away with it, that will always be the case, but if you ramped it up to where it should be, it would be a different story.

“They have that many different projects on the go which are potentially only window-dressing issues to racing. This (drugs) is a core issue. The money for it just has to be there.”

Freedman said if it required a levy to be created on prizemoney or race entry fees, so be it. “It should be user-pays so everybody is contributing to a fund that is being set up to enhance the integrity. The more horses you enter, the more you pay.”

Rather than bore you with my thoughts on the issue I decided to put a series of questions to Terry Bailey and here are his unedited responses, which we appreciate him finding the time to provide:

Q: Could you outline the benefits of a lock down of horses prior to big races, what other countries adopt this procedure and whether you expected such opposition from the Australian Trainers’ Association and sections of the racing media?

A: Greater scrutiny on preventing breaches of drug related rules, i.e. stomach tubing within 24 hours and race day treatment. Security guards currently are put in place on race morning. All horses can be vetted the day before the Cup rather than relying on intelligence as to whether a horse is suspect or not.

Overseas trainers are asking for an equal playing field, given that horses are under 24-7 surveillance in the Quarantine Centre.

The Ontario Racing Commission in Canada certainly adopts this procedure. I am not sure what happens in the United States but I believe some states do adopt it.

I haven’t spoken to the Australian Trainers’ Association regarding their views on this and I don’t intend to unless it has the support of the Integrity Sub-Committee.

Q: When it comes to a suggestion that the horses would fret away from their home stable environment do you see any difference in locking horses down for 24 hours to trainers floating them interstate for carnivals, or for that matter taking them overseas and the affect that might have on those horses?

A: To me this is the only possible downside. These days though trainers seem to move horses around far more often. Under Victorian local rules we receive numerous applications every week notifying that horses are being shifted from their home base to another trainer’s stable the day before a race. Interstate trainers would argue their horses are given time to settle in.

Q: Why do you think the trainers are so strongly opposed to the proposal and does it not just add to transparency in the industry?

A: Change in the racing industry is always difficult. The way I see it the retention barn would provide an equal playing field for all for a race of such stature.

Q: In relation to barrier trials for un-raced horses could you please outline the current position of Racing Victoria on this issue?

A: The implementation of first starters in the metropolitan area having to officially trial was not supported by the Owners and Trainers Association.

Integrity short-falls in the jump-out system in Victoria have been addressed through changes implemented from January 1st. Such changes though do not address the issue of trial form being available to customers or the media.

Q: Could you advise what percentage of first starters have not been trialed and if possible does RVL have any figures on how these races with un-trialed horses shape up when it comes to betting turnover?

A: During the 2008-09 season approximately 400 horses had their first start in the metropolitan area and close to 200 of those had trialed.

Comparing turnover is difficult with comparisons made with turnover in Sydney. Depending on your position, you could argue the figures either way.

Q: There was an interview on Racing Radio in Brisbane recently where former champion jockey Mick Dittman spoke of his concerns for the safety of jockeys who have to ride un-trialed horses in races. What is the attitude of yourself or RVL to this?

A: I am comfortable that the current jump-out system meets the minimum standard to provide a safer workplace for jockeys.

Q: Should it not be the stewards who have the ultimate say on both these issues rather than Board appointees with links to stables or owners and trainers, who with respect, have a conflict of interest where the stewards don’t?

A: In Victoria we have established an Integrity Sub-Committee where all decisions are made and ultimately go to the Board for approval.

Stewards are appointed under the rules to ‘assist in the control of racing.’ We make recommendations and express opinions. Some are supported. Some are not.

As I said at the start of this column, Victoria has been at the forefront of horse racing in this country for so long and has too many respected and talented people running the show to permit the stifling of debate on a couple of contentious issues to damage its image.

In conclusion my message to those in the racing media intent on ‘Bailey bashing’ is: Get a life guys. It’s not going to sell any more newspapers. Your criticism is only serving to convince the racing public that Bailey is the best man for the job. And he is!



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