Jenny - Clean

THE enforced apology by Stathi Katsidis over his controversial claims concerning the alleged use of party drugs by jockeys highlights the incredible hyprocacy of an industry that seems hell-bent on hearing no evil, seeing no evil and speaking no evil.

Katsidis learnt a hard lesson speaking out of turn to an over-zealous racing writer chasing a head-line grabbing story and had little option but to back down after being hauled before stewards in two states and was called on by racing officialdom in Sydney to substantiate his claims.

In the Sydney Morning Herald article on April 2, journalist Chris Roots wrote: ‘Stathi Katsidis admits he took ecstasy – he served a nine-month ban after testing positive to it in 2008. He also insists he wasn’t the only sportsman to take party drugs, claiming ‘about half’ of jockeys and football players partake.

Katsidis was quoted as saying: “It goes on - footy players and jockeys [take it]. Well probably about half of them might do it. When you take things like that it was good for your weight because instead of drinking piss you drink water.”

For Chris Roots, a little known racing journo who has emerged from the back blocks of Townsville to the high lights of Sydney, the story had its desired effect and provided that ‘exclusive’ follow up. It gave him a profile but in the process a good majority of the country’s leading jockeys will be wary when he calls.

Racing NSW stewards, headed by Ray Murrihy, reacted quickly to the Katsidis claims – as one would expect – and asked him to divulge any information he had concerning drug use within racing. That was never going to happen.

“It is a serious problem in society and racing is not immune to it,”' Murrihy told the SMH. “Stathi said he knew nothing about anything going on in Sydney, but we had to ask the question.

“'We are alive to the problem and have stepped up our testing program in the past couple of months. We want to stamp it out from our sport.” That sort of suggests Murrihy partly agrees that there is a drug problem in racing as Katsidis alluded to.

Even NRL chief executive David Gallop got in on the action confidently claiming that rugby league’s testing program would catch any players taking recreational drugs.

“Rugby league has the most comprehensive drug-testing program of any sporting body in the world,” Gallop said. “If a player wants to take the risk of taking a drug like ecstasy, they know their chances of getting tested are very high and that means the chances of getting caught are high.”

Katsidis had no sooner arrived back on home soil when he was hauled before Queensland Racing stewards and subsequently apologized for speaking out of turn but was adamant that in the SMH story he had been ‘well and truly taken out of context’.  If that was the case, perhaps he should have asked the writer to correct the perception.

In many cases of controversial claims that would impact on the image of racing – or sport in general for that matter – we hear of a ‘wall of silence’ that exists preventing or ensuring full disclosure never occurs.

The sad aspect of this supposed ‘wall of silence’ is that it often protects the guilty and prevents officialdom from doing their job. Therein lies another story that has been doing the rounds in racing for several weeks that we thought long and hard about revealing.

It involves an extremely serious allegation concerning an assault on an apprentice jockey. He was telling anyone that wanted to listen that a substance had been slipped into his drink at a racing party in Brisbane and when he awoke a prominent trainer was taking his underpants off and attempting to assault him. He claims to have fought the trainer off but the rumor mill is rife that he wasn’t the first victim.

The story goes that the apprentice was not prepared to come forward and make an official complaint because he has a history of taking drugs and fears for his career. There are many in the industry insisting that the allegations should still be investigated.

That may well have occurred but there has been no official confirmation of an investigation and the Integrity Department at Queensland Racing has refused to comment on the issue. Perhaps it has been placed in the hands of the police – if that is the case then why not just say so.

Call Ray Murrihy a head-line grabber, grand-stander or what you like – had this alleged situation occurred in Sydney you can bet it would have been investigated and in all likelihood the racing media would have been all over it.

Murrihy – labeled ‘Sugar Ray’ by the Melbourne racing media – has problems of his own on the Sydney front at present with media reports that angry jockeys could strike if he refuses to soften his hard-line stance on whip penalties.

Matt Stewart, writing in the Melbourne Herald Sun, went so far as to suggest that ‘Murrihy, whose reign is on the verge of crisis, will try to justify his actions in front of state and territory peers at a national stewards’ conference in Sydney on Thursday.’

The MHS report continued: ‘Murrihy, who has handed out 64 suspensions and countless fines for whip rule breaches, is the odd man out among chief stewards on whip and other penalties.

‘Murrihy and Racing NSW last week criticized as soft interstate whip policy, which angered other stewards.

‘Racing Victoria chief steward Terry Bailey said yesterday he was ‘a little disappointed’ by the criticism. “The rule is six months old and jockeys are being asked to adapt from 100 years of racing,” Bailey said.

‘The Australian Jockeys' Association, which has asked to attend Thursday’s stewards’ showdown, said it would consult first Racing NSW, then its members, if Murrihy refused to yield.The AJA has been critical of Murrihy, not just for his penalty policy, but other penalties, even his demeanour.

‘His month suspension of Kerrin McEvoy for a beaten ride was widely regarded as outrageous. Most believe McEvoy made, at worst, a minor tactical error. He has appealed.

‘AJA chief executive Paul Innes said the AJA would urge the Racing NSW board to order Murrihy to fall in line with other states if the chief steward refused to yield. “I'm not optimistic about Murrihy being prepared to change,” Innes said.

“If we don't get satisfaction on Thursday, or from Racing NSW, we'll take it back to our members,” Innes said, not ruling out strike action.

That’s about the last thing Sydney racing needs at the moment with carnival crowds – or a lack of them – a major talking point.

“If there appears no resolution is likely, we'll go back to our members and see what action they want to take. What action that is is up to the members. We don't want a near revolt, like what happened at Rosehill on Golden Slipper day, but the jockeys are dissatisfied,” Innes said.

‘Jockeys were irate on Slipper day after Murrihy's panel fined Michael Rodd $2,000 for over-use of the whip aboard Faint Perfume. They were close to striking on the spot.’

That situation went from the sublime to the ridiculous when an apprentice jockey was fined $200 for over-use of the whip on a horse after the winning post at Randwick last Saturday. Trainer John O’Shea explained that the apprentice was acting on instructions to do so as Music Review was being prepared for a longer assignment and he wanted it to have a good hit-out.

Critics questioned how Rodd could be fined $2,000 for trying to win when apprentice Berry was fined only $200 for a similar offence when a race was over. It’s all too silly for words – and basically the buck stops with Racing NSW or the Australian Racing Board.

Racing NSW has so far backed Murrihy with that body’s chief Peter V’Landys suggesting the critics should ‘leave Ray alone and back off’ as ‘all he is doing is implementing the rules as laid down.’

Integrity in racing is an issue that has also returned to haunt Racing NSW and V’Landys in the past week. Bad blood between the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Racing NSW over the return to race riding of jockey Chris Munce re-emerged on the eve of the Asian Racing Conference in Sydney this week.

HKJC authorities made it abundantly clear that all has not been forgiven after Racing NSW ignored international convention by granting Munce permission to return to race riding after his release from jail when he was still a suspended jockey as far as Hong Kong stewards were concerned.

The HKJC has basically boycotted the Asian Racing Conference in protest with highly respected chief executive Winfried Engelbrech-Bresges only fulfilling a requirement to attend the Asian Racing Federation meeting on Sunday as an official on the Executive Council. He decided not to attend the conference nor did the HKJC patronize the Easter Yearling Sales in Sydney where they were once a major buyer.

The HKJC renewed its attack on conference host, Racing NSW, for ignoring the suspension imposed on Munce for his participation in the ‘tips for bets’ scandal which led to the top jockey serving a 20-month jail term.

In the statement posted on its official web-site, the HKJC said: “One of the major purposes of the Asian Racing Conference is to foster relations between racing jurisdictions and to encourage the internationalization and harmonization of racing throughout the Asia region and beyond.

“The decision of Racing NSW, the authority hosting this year's conference, not to reciprocate a penalty of suspension imposed by the Racing Stewards of the Hong Kong Jockey Club upon jockey Christopher Munce, who chose not to appeal, was in direct conflict with the guiding ARF principles and serves as a recent reminder of why the Asian Racing Conference and harmonization of Asian racing rules is of significant importance.

“The Club will continue to show its respect and commitment to the ARF and world racing by sending representatives to lead discussions or present keynote speeches at the Conference to assist in the further development of international racing, especially in the ARF region.”

Racing NSW certainly has its problems:

  • THE majority of industry stake-holders in Australia regard it as out of step on penalties imposed for whip use with Chief Steward Ray Murrihy at loggerheads with his interstate counterparts and facing a vote of ‘no confidence’ or even strike action from jockeys.
  • A major international racing force in the Hong Kong Jockey Club has basically boycotted Racing NSW because of its decision to ignore international protocol on the Chris Munce issue.
  • Crowds at the Sydney carnival have dipped badly with implemented major race date changes seen as a rank failure and high profile trainers talking about by-passing the Sydney carnival and heading to Brisbane because of poor prizemoney levels.

All of a sudden Racing NSW is copping a kicking from all directions and the threat that Sydney once posed to Melbourne as the fore-runner of Australian racing has well and truly evaporated.



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