Why is this man riding the Melbourne Cup favourite?
Do you remember where you were when Damien Oliver won the Cup on Media Puzzle? I was at a particularly pissy lunch in Canberra and the room choked up as, struggling to keep it together, Oliver dedicated the win to his brother Jason, who had died a week before in a barrier trial.
Today, Oliver lines up on the equal favourite Americain. He stands accused of possibly the worst crime a jockey can commit – outlaying a $10,000 bet on a rival horse in a race at Moonee Valley in 2010. Let’s be clear on this: Oliver was on the second favourite, Europa Point, paying $3.80. He bet on Miss Octopussy ($2.30), the favourite and eventual winner, earning him $23,000. Oliver’s horse finished sixth.
Europa Point’s connections will rightly want to know if one of the country’s champion jockeys ran dead on their horse. There’s no proof yet to suggest he did – but they have a right to know if this was the case.
He has reportedly told his supporters, whoever they might now be, that he expects to be banned from racing for the foreseeable future. But hey, he expects to retire anyway, so who really cares?
What any self-respecting punter wants to know is why the hell is this bloke allowed to run in Australia’s most prestigious race at 3pm AEDT today?
If reports are proven, then Oliver has broken the golden rule of his sport. Jockeys can’t bet, end of story. Chris Munce, the once celebrated hoop, went to Hong Kong to ride and served time in jail for his part in an illegal betting syndicate.
To understand why these well-paid athletes would take such a risk on their career and reputation, you need to know something about the life of a jockey. Like boxers, they’re boom and bust. Every waking moment is occupied by making weight. They work out in boiler suits, lift weights for strength and sit in saunas for hours on end. They don’t eat on race day and some refuse water for the sake of 50 or 100g. These guys live to take risks and when they do, punters applaud them for it.
A few years ago, I spent some time with the champion jockey Shane Dye. It was Christmas time and I asked him what he would be having for lunch. “A plate of feathers, a sip of water and a look around,” he replied. It was a great line, but a depressing insight into the job.
None of this excuses Damien Oliver’s alleged transgressions, but if guilty, he wouldn’t be the first. A friend of mine who was a bookmaker’s clerk in his university years once wrote a ticket to a Melbourne Cup winning jockey. This was in the early ’90s when most bookmaker betting slips were still handwritten. The jockey approached the clerk on a quiet corner of the racecourse long after the last race, and placed his bet on the horse he was set to ride in an upcoming spring feature race.
It’s not hard to imagine this sort of transaction happens electronically now every day of the week, especially when a friend or associate of the jockey places the bet. Betting on your own horse is against the rules of racing. But it’s nowhere near as serious as backing a rival horse, as this implies deceit.
And yet today at Flemington and in offices all over the country, men in suits and ladies in swirly fascinators will suspend their moral judgment and outlay millions on the favourite Americain. Because we all know racing’s a bit on the nose and it’s only a scam when you’re not in on it, right?
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