OK, I’m being a touch facetious but not entirely flippant. Like it or not, justified or not – that question has been the standing joke among industry participants, especially in Victoria, over the past two years. It seems that every bit of racing’s dirty linen gets a public hearing and often via industry leaks.
It’s a funny thing integrity! Bit like children perhaps. Ought to be seen (to be done) but not heard.
While there are, of course, no degrees of honesty or integrity the racing game has a multitude of grey areas which need balanced and considered policing. After all, nobody genuinely believes that every staying horse resuming in the spring is genuinely complying with AR 135 (a) and (b) that “Every horse shall be run on its merits…..and the rider of every horse shall take all reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race to ensure that his horse is given full opportunity to win or to obtain the best possible place in the field.”
Naturally, the racing game (and the massive wagering which accompanies it) demands that things are seen to be above board. Breaches of integrity have to be investigated and prosecuted when appropriate. But at what cost, financially and in terms of damage to the industry’s reputation?
I can’t help but think that it’s time the industry collectively took one big deep breath and carefully consider that need for ‘balanced and considered policing.’
Call me naive but I have no concerns that our game is poisoned by endemic cheating or corruption. I’m pretty sure, from years of race day interaction, that the punt is not the raison d’etre for the majority of trainers, especially those at the top end of the game.
Of course, I am not so naive as to think that nothing untoward ever happens. And I certainly make no judgment on the wisdom of any specific, major prosecutions of late as I am not privy to all the information stewards may hold.
However, I do note that Racing Victoria’s legal costs more than doubled to $2,380,000 in 2015, from $1,020,000 in 2014. Goodness knows what that figure will be in 2016 and 2017 given the on-going cobalt cases. Racing NSW, incidentally, spent just $87,366 on legal fees in 2015.
I’ll admit I’m illiterate when it comes to corporate and financial affairs and maybe a $2,380,000 legal bill, amid awkward times, is not massive for an organisation of RV’s size but obviously if it were eliminated there’d be almost $25,000 extra which could be added to the prize money on 100 races.
I believe there is also a strong view among industry participants that our ‘police’ ought not sweat the small stuff. Did the likes of Sarah Moody and Manny Gelagotis really need to be fined for what were deemed to be inappropriate tweets and comments – especially given the further costs incurred when Gelagotis appealed the decision and the negative publicity both cases generated.
A view that common sense was not applied when Platelet (Strategic) was scratched from the Darley Classic (Gr 1, 1200m) because of an incorrect stable return or that El Roca (Fastnet Rock), in Sydney, was taken out of the Hobartville Stakes (Gr 2, 1400m) because of a misunderstanding of the rules which loosely centred on the horse having the equivalent of Gatorade.
A view that too many rules have been amended with a complete disregard for common sense, particularly with many very minor treatments within 24 hours of a race and mandatory minimum penalties. That the whip rule is unwieldy and unworkable and unnecessary and simply provides ammunition for racing’s detractors. That Racing Australia’s bid to have all breeders under its control is unnecessary, regulation for the sake of regulation and also likely to be costly.
All I’m saying is that not all is rotten in the state of racing, so I would hope the regulators are not starting from that premise. That greater collaboration with trainers on the rules of racing is advisable and that the imposition of penalties should be applied in the most cost-effective manner. There is a sense of frustration out there which administrators would be unwise to ignore if for no other reason than their own tenure.
Busuttin And Young Make Immediate Impact
The move to Australia for New Zealand trainers Trent Busuttin and his partner Natalie Young was a long time in the making. However, their impact on Victorian racing from their new Cranbourne base has been much, much more immediate and striking.
At the time of writing, the pair had had 16 runners in Victoria for five wins and five seconds in three weeks since settling into their new home. Such a strike rate is certainly no shock given the duo already boast success in the VRC Derby (Gr 1, 2500m) with Sangster (Savabeel) in 2011 and the ATC Australian Derby (Gr 1, 2400m) with Tavago (Tavistock) this year (albeit that the first was in Busuttin’s name only).
And it was that first classic victory in Melbourne, almost five years ago, which precipitated the move to Australia. “It’s been that long. We’ve been trying to get to Australia since not long after that Derby win. We’ve had our names down at the major centres like Flemington and Caulfield but nothing came of it.
“Then the opportunity came up at Cranbourne with the construction of the new on-course stables and the move has been seamless. Neil (Bainbridge) has been fantastic,” Busuttin said, referring to the Chief Executive of the Cranbourne Turf Club.
The new stable complex, literally adjacent to the Cranbourne training centre (which is adjacent to the Cranbourne racecourse but separate from it), also houses local trainers Greg Eurell and Robbie Griffiths.
“The facilities are great. We were able to have some input into the design of the stables and Natalie came over a couple of times during the design and build process. We have 45 boxes with the room to expand and I think we probably need room for 60 to be really competitive here. It really is a great training facility and all the trainers here have been great so I don’t feel there’s been any widespread resentment about a Kiwi coming in.
“Mick Kent has been telling me all along that Cranbourne is the best training facility in Melbourne and I think he’s right and I couldn’t be happier here especially now that the family is settled,” Busuttin said.
Busuttin did look somewhat bemused when it was suggested that recent heavy rain and it’s effect on the grass training tracks might compromise the preparation of his spring contenders.
“Well, no so far. The conditions have been pretty good, especially compared with New Zealand. Aussie trainers just wouldn’t gallop their horses on what we gallop on a lot of the time in New Zealand. We trained at Cambridge which is first class but the main training track there might be out of play for six months of the year. You just had to make do,” he said.
Busuttin concedes he was anxious to make an immediately good impression but acknowledges there’s more to do. “Naturally I’m pleased with the outcome so far. We wanted to get some runs on the board quickly and several of the horses arrived from New Zealand with a good pre-training base. They weren’t screwed down but they were forward enough.
“And we need to be winning races with these horses for our New Zealand based owners given the cost of getting the horses here and the higher costs and training fees in Australia. We’ve made a good start but we need one or two to step up in town (Melbourne tracks) now,” he said.
Busuttin says that the on-going success of the New Zealand bred horse and the fine record of hit-and-run New Zealand trainers in Australia encourages him to believe he can make his relocation succeed.
“Hopefully we have some advantage in accessing good horses from home. I think the New Zealand bred horse went missing for a while but the breeders are now back to doing what they do best, producing very good middle distance and staying horses.
“And Kiwi trainers like Murray Baker, Roger James, Trevor and Steven McKee have consistently shown over recent years that we can compete here,” Busuttin said.
Busuttin’s father Paddy, of course, also features on the roll of Melbourne spring carnival winners – most notably with 1992 Caulfield Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) winner and Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) third Castletown (One Pound Sterling). Not to mention that Busuttin senior was the first mentor of all conquering Sydney-based trainer and former New Zealander, Chris Waller.
Busuttin junior, unsurprisingly, says that Derby winner Tavago is his ‘flagship’ horse and remains upbeat about his spring prospects despite a realistic assessment of his first-up 11th to Awesome Rock (Fastnet Rock) in the Dato’ Tan Chin Nam Stakes (Gr 2, 1600m).
Busuttin does not believe Tavago needs soft ground to produce his best despite his Australian Derby win coming on a Soft 6 rated track at Randwick. “I’d say no at the moment to the view that he needs it wet. He’s won on hard ground in New Zealand and I think it’s more about getting to the right distance range,” he said.
Busuttin named the maiden colts Anaheim (Fastnet Rock) and Positive Carry (Savabeel) along with recent maiden winners El Sicario (Bullbars) and the filly Knew It (O’Reilly) as others from his team who may measure up to spring class.
“I’m hoping the two colts (Anaheim and Positive Carry) are my Derby horses. It’s hard to get them there but I think they’ll both be in it if they keep progressing. El Sicario is stakes class in my view. Just what level of stakes class, we’ll find out in the next few weeks and Knew It is a lovely filly. The major races might come around too soon for her but she is a very, good filly,” Busuttin said.