Two suspended over alleged “jigger” use
It’s never the intention of a journo or a photographer – or at least it shouldn’t be – to become the story, rather than just the one who is covering it.
For popular racing photographer Sharon Chapman she inadvertently this week became part of a stewards inquiry in the Queensland outback at Birdsville ahead of its iconic two-day race meeting when a photograph she posted on Twitter allegedly showed a jockey carrying a “jigger” – or an electrical device – while riding a horse in trackwork.
Barcaldine trainer Todd Austin has had his six runners across the two days scratched by order of stewards while leading Queensland country jockey Ric McMahon has also been stood down in the wake of the scandal.
The alleged use of a jigger remains just that, an allegation, but stewards have suspended the pair while they continue their inquiry.
“QRIC takes allegations of animal cruelty are taken very seriously. One of QRIC’s key functions is to safeguard the welfare of any animal involved in racing, and we will take all steps necessary to protect animals involved in racing,” QRIC said in a release on Wednesday night.
“If a licence is suspended, a participant cannot partake in any activity relevant to the licence category they hold.”
Of course, no blame should or could be levelled at Chapman, the snapper oblivious to what was allegedly depicted in the black and white image she took. Predictably, however, a small section of morons on social media took aim at the photographer rather than the accused culprits themselves.
Chapman, a well-known photographer at yearling sales, racecourses and other associated industry events whose ability to capture a magic shot is up there with the best, is a big supporter of racing in general and Birdsville in particular.
It’s unwanted publicity for one of Australia’s great outback racetracks, which was scheduled to host a six-race card today with another seven-race event set for tomorrow, highlighted by the $42,000 cup, run over 1600 metres.
Today’s card was postponed late yesterday owing to the wet weather. Racing Queensland officials hope tomorrow’s cup programme will proceed on the dirt track.
Chapman and her partner Mark made the more than 1600-kilometre drive to Birdsville from their coastal Queensland home to attend this year’s cup meeting – the second running of the two-day meeting in 2022 due to a Covid catch-up held at Easter time – as they do most years.
Rain in the vast region surrounding Birdsville, which is located on the Queensland-South Australia border, 1600 kilometres from Brisbane and almost 1200 kilometres from Adelaide, had made travelling difficult to the outback town, population 110, due to roads becoming inaccessible.
Crowds normally swell to more than 5,000 for the Birdsville meeting but there were already suggestions the attendance for the September carnival would be down.
Fuel prices – diesel is being sold for $2.80 a litre in Birdsville – along with the blocked roads could also have contributed to a smaller than normal influx of racegoers.
Just as I wrote about King Island a few weeks ago and its summer racing carnival’s battle for survival, Birdsville’s annual carnival is unique and Racing Queensland administrators and government MPs need to ensure the country meetings can not just survive but thrive.
The same can be said for small race clubs right around the country.
Gambling is a dirty word, even in racing, a sport which relies on punters more than any other contributor to fund the enormous industry. But it shouldn’t be.
Racing authorities effectively outsource the marketing of betting on the sport to the corporate bookmakers, who spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year promoting their thousands of products and inducements.
It’s a touchy subject, for sure, with governments not wanting to be seen to be promoting gambling even though – like racing – the taxes provide significant returns to the states and territories to reinvest in hospitals, roads and other public services.
You may argue that why would racing need to market gambling, considering wagering hit all-time highs last financial year, but I’d suggest administrators need to market the real difference between betting on racing and sport and those taking their chances on the insidious poker machines, lotteries, Keno, casino games and scratchies where the odds are absolute and not in the punters’ favour.
It’s about race betting being branded alternatively rather than being lumped in the same basket as the pokies – as much for the consumer as it is for administrators to ensure government ministers and decision makers understand the significant difference.
“Doing the form” is a pleasurable pastime and provides an intellectual challenge. Getting it right, just as Sky Racing’s Paul Joice did recently by tipping (and backing) a 150-1 winner at the Sunshine Coast with considered and well-constructed analysis, provides immense satisfaction, without taking the financial return into consideration.
You can with discipline beat the odds with racing and sports betting; the others, you can’t.
There won’t be a column next week as I go for a short freshen up in Cairns. As industry people often do, I’ll be enjoying the break at the Amateurs racing carnival in Far North Queensland next Friday and Saturday.
I expect More The Merrier, an in-form mare raced by Kestrel Thoroughbreds’ Bruce Slade, G1G Racing and Breeding’s Gary Diamond and Avesta Bloodstock’s Jimmy Unwala among others, who won her fifth race last week, will be hard to beat again in the Class Six over 950 metres on day two.
Cairns Amateurs is one of the bucket list carnivals for any racing enthusiast and if you happen to be there, come and say hello. I won’t be hard to find, just check the betting ring.
Dave Mee is off the mark in Europe – and a few weeks before his first purchase at a public auction during Wednesday’s Tattersalls August Sale.
Mee, who arrived in France in July for a six-month period, revealed to my colleague Alex Wiltshire that he had privately purchased a filly destined for Down Under in conjunction with Symon Wilde and Evans Racing.
Named Perle Bleue, the three-year-old daughter of Le Havre (Noverre) is a one-start maiden for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget.
“She’s a lovely filly and just needs to put on a bit of weight and should improve for Australian conditions,” Mee said. “It’ll be interesting to see what we can do with her. Hopefully she’s the first of many.”
Mee says he has settled in well from his France base, but upon first observation had noted a few particular differences between the Australian and the European breed.
“The biggest difference for me is that the horses here seem to be quite light although very sound,” Mee said.