Slapped with a feather when he should have been whipped
Eight months. That’s jockey Damien Oliver’s laughably soft penalty for bringing an entire sport into disrepute. He won’t even miss a Spring Carnival. That’s like suspending a football player for the off-season. What a joke.
In 2010, the AFL suspended a lowly interchange steward for a whole year after he placed a whopping total of $9 in bets. It was heavy-handed, but it sent the clear message that anyone employed by the AFL, no matter how tangentially, must not bet on it.
Racing had the chance to send an even stronger message today. When one of the most famous names in your sport bets the equivalent of an overseas trip on a rival horse, it’s a rare opportunity to go medieval.
So what did racing authorities do? They gave a limp-wristed slap, that’s what. By so doing, they confirmed every mug punter’s suspicion that the authorities themselves are too close to the action to appreciate the seriousness of a blatant act of corruption.
Let’s remind them, shall we?
In 2010, Damien Oliver rode a horse called Europa Point in a race at Moonee Valley. It finished sixth. The favourite, Miss Octopussy won the race. It later emerged that Damien Oliver bet $10,000 on Miss Octopussy at odds of $2.30, thereby netting him a $13,000 profit.
This revelation was a complete shocker, for the really obvious reason that jockeys are not allowed to bet on any horse race – let alone a differenthorse in a race in which they’re riding.
Oliver says he rode Europa Point to the best of his ability. Whatever. Let’s just say it didn’t appear to be as enterprising a ride as Oliver’s effort on Victoria Derby winner Fiveandahalfstar earlier this month, which netted him $60,000.
Anyway, it doesn’t actually matter whether Oliver rode his best or not in that fateful 2010 race. His admission that he bet on a rival horse is the only fact that matters.
What Oliver did wasn’t the Fine Cotton scheme in terms of audacity. But its effect was the same. When a racing insider flaunts the rules to suit his own financial ends, outsiders will distrust the sport. How can they do otherwise?
Racing likes to aggrandise itself with that worn old catchphrase “the sport of kings” but the truth is, the sport is now seen as the sport of pissheads, D-Listers and wannabes. Thanks to Oliver, you can throw the word “cheats” onto that list.
Oliver’s cheating is as serious a racing matter as you can get, and it’s mystifying he wasn’t ousted for a decade or more. All you can deduce is that the penalty was dished out to “Ollie” the national icon, not Damien Oliver the broken man and cheating jockey.
This is the guy we all warmed to in 2002 when he rode the Melbourne Cup winner the same week his jockey brother lost his life in a fall. It was a story so profoundly moving they turned it into a feature film.
Ollie has has a cheeky, boyish grin. He plays golf. He surfs. He still has freckles. On top of all that downright likeability, his marriage was breaking up and he was contrite about all this. How do you punish a bloke like that for life?
You just do, that’s how, and Racing Victoria should have followed the lead of the English Cumani stable, who kicked Oliver off their horse just days before this year’s Caulfield Cup.
Oliver had the audacity to claim this was all horribly unfair, and that he may seek compensation if the horse, My Quest for Peace, were to win the Caulfield Cup – which it eventually didn’t.
That little episode said everything you need to know about Oliver’s mindset. It said he cares more about his income than his integrity or that of his sport.
Oliver is lucky. Very lucky. He will be able to ride on next year, aged 41, which is middle age for a jockey.
The $200,000 plus he earned over the Melbourne spring should see him through the interim period comfortably enough, assuming he doesn’t blow too much of it on the races.
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