EXCLUSIVE: ALBION PARK HARNESS RACING INTEGRITY LOST AS 10/1 ON FAVOURITE NOT SWABBED AFTER GETTING BEATEN EASILY IN A TWO HORSE RACE

01/08/14

I try to pride myself on giving everyone in the racing industry a fair go, for as I’m not perfect – by any stretch of the imagination – so I give everyone some latitude, as we can all make mistakes. But I’ve sat in the background and not said one word and have given Racing Queensland one full week, as at today, to have done something constructive after an Albion Park harness race last Friday night and as they have done absolutely nothing since that night, I’m going to comment publicly on what I believe they have done wrong.

Last Friday at Albion Park, in the final race of the night, Race 9 a field of just two pacers lined up in an Australasian Breeders Crown 3YO colts and geldings heat. The Belinda McCarthy trained, Bart Cockburn driven, Bling It On, lined up behind the mobile as the 10/1 on ($1.10) favourite. The other runner was the Grant Dixon trained and driven Alleluia, which started officially at $3.40. The race became as boring as watching grass grow and/or paint dry, as Grant Dixon led on Alleluia and his former employee, Bart Cockburn, on Bling It On, sat behind him at a pedestrian pace until about the 700-metre mark of the 2138–metre mobile start event when Bling It On made what I would personally describe as “a pathetic short lived challenge and went for about 300 metres” but in the home straight he was no match for Alleluia, which officially won by six metres. No problem so far, as if Ajax could get beaten at 40/1 on in a three-horse thoroughbred race at Rosehill and four-time Inter Dominion winner Blacks A Fake could also go over at 10/1 on in a race at Albion Park during his career, then Bling It On can also get beaten.

In charge at the Albion Park meeting in question was Kwan Wolsey and she and her panel subsequently fined Grant Dixon for setting a slow pace and suspended Bart Cockburn who drove the 10/1 on favourite Bling It On for eight weeks over his drive. Apart from having worked for Grant Dixon earlier in his career, Bart Cockburn was obviously so respected by Grant Dixon that he’d driven for the Grant Dixon stable just six nights earlier, partnering the Grant Dixon trained Max Richter in the $100,000 Group 1 Queensland Derby, which ironically Bling It On had won at the long odds-on quote of $1.60.

The official stewards report from the two-horse race last Friday night reads:

Driver G Dixon (ALLELUIA) (NZ) pleaded guilty to a charge under Rule 162 (1) (x) in that he set an excessively slow pace when leading the event recording 68.7 seconds for the first half of the last mile. Mr Dixon was fined $500.

Driver B Cockburn (BLING IT ON) was charged and subsequently found guilty under Rule 149 (1) in that as the driver of BLING IT ON he failed firstly to challenge for the lead from the start when it was both reasonable and permissible to do so and as instructed by connections and secondly that after taking a trail on the leader ALLELUIA (NZ), which set an excessively slow pace in running a lead time of 43.5 seconds, which is equivalent to a 33.1 second quarter followed by a first quarter of 34.1 seconds and a second quarter of 34.6 second he failed to improve to the lead, or attempt to lead which is the horse’s usual racing pattern, when there was full opportunity to do so, particularly in the early to middle stages and as such as the driver he failed to take all reasonable and permissible measures during the course of the race to ensure that BLING IT ON was given full opportunity to win or obtain the best possible placing in the field. After considering submissions on penalty Stewards suspended Mr Cockburn’s licence to drive in races for a period of eight weeks to commence at midnight on Saturday, 26 July 2014.

The woman who was in charge of the Albion Park meeting and therefore representing Racing Queensland last Friday night, as advised above, was Kwan Wolsey. She was moved permanently to the harness racing stewards panel in May of this year with the obvious blessing of Racing Queensland hierarchy, who took the decision to promote her, after she’d been both a Racing Queensland thoroughbred and harness steward. I made no comment at the time about her promotion, as “I give everyone some latitude”, but must say that I thought the promotion was strange, given her previous close association with a licensed Brisbane based thoroughbred trainer, which understandingly could have caused a possible conflict of interest had she stayed on as a stipendiary steward in the thoroughbred code. But anyway that aside, I would have reasonably thought that any steward who was in charge of a race meeting, across any of the three codes, would have swabbed a 10/1 on chance that was easily beaten in a two-horse, or two-dog race, particularly given from my observations that Bling It On only “went for about 300 metres” before throwing his toys out of the cot. It’s also a fact that Bling It On was going for 11 wins in a row when being beaten in this race and the winner Alleluia, which incidentally is owned by affable Racing Queensland Harness Board member Greg Mitchell, had won five of 19 starts prior to this race around Australasia, so as you can see, Bling It On certainly went into the race with a far superior CV.

Why I gave Racing Queensland one full week from last Friday night was that I felt sure that they would announce this week that they had launched an enquiry into all betting activities that transpired on the race in question, including fixed odds betting and Betfair activities. Whilst I have no qualifications as a steward, from what I have witnessed over the years, if I were Chief Steward at the meeting in question, I’d have opened an enquiry into the race and would have adjourned the enquiry after taking initial evidence, until I had the results of all betting on the race at hand. I’d have also ordered that Bling It On be swabbed even if we all sat there until midnight if necessary (it was Race 9), simply so the public could see I was pro-active in seemingly protecting their interests. I feel personally that firstly not swabbing Bling It On and secondly conducting and concluding the enquiry into the race, on the night of the race, was damaging to the “integrity” of harness racing, which I personally feel from the general public perspective is already at an all time low, as I have written here recently. The research into betting activities may have turned up nothing and Bling It On may well have thrown a clear swab – but at least I’d have been in control of some more relevant facts before concluding the enquiry on the night. When racing doesn’t swab 10/1 on chances post race – that seemingly have every chance, in a race involving only two runners – it is, as far as I’m concerned, solely responsible for its own demise.

On 14 May this year the following Media Release entitled “Racing Queensland Announces Appointments of Harness Racing Stewards” was issued by Wade Birch, who is Racing Queensland General Manager – Stewards and Integrity Operations: In full it read:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 10:45 AM

Racing Queensland (RQ) has announced appointments to the positions of Deputy Chief Stipendiary Stewards for harness racing in Queensland.

Larry Wilson has been appointed as Deputy Chief Stipendiary Steward (Racing) and Kwan Wolsey has been appointed as Deputy Chief Stipendiary Steward (Operations).

Mr Wilson has been employed as a stipendiary steward in the harness industry for the past 15 years and brings a thorough knowledge of the sport of harness racing to the role.

Ms Wolsey has been employed by Racing Queensland for the past 8 years, occupying administrative roles and the position of a stipendiary steward in both the thoroughbred and harness codes.

Racing Queensland General Manager – Stewards and Integrity Operations Wade Birch said Mr Wilson and Ms Wolsey brought a great deal of experience and professionalism to their positions.

“Appointments of this calibre are further evidence of Racing Queensland’s commitment to ensuring the integrity of harness racing in Queensland is not only maintained but enhanced into the future,” Mr Birch said.

“The professional development of racing administrators will remain a key focus for Racing Queensland as it progresses towards an effective succession plan.”

With the greatest of respect to both Mr Birch and Ms Wolsey, I would suggest that failing to swab a 10/1 on easily beaten favourite after a two-horse race is hardly “further evidence of Racing Queensland’s commitment to ensuring the integrity of harness racing is not only maintained but enhanced into the future” and most certainly would not bring any “professionalism to their positions”.

If you would like to see a replay of the two-horse race in question, you can do that by going to the www.brisbaneracing.com.au website “Eagle Farm Race 2 Preview and Three Important Harness Racing Replays article.

And whilst I’m on about Albion Park harness racing meetings, that racing surface only 24 hours after the two-horse race (referred to above) was nothing short of a disgrace following rain last Saturday night. Whilst I accept that vision for Sky Channel viewers for races starting in the back straight doesn’t show how soft the track was – every viewer was able to see first hand how the mobile was having problems getting traction when fields were released in the home straight in 2138-metre mobile event. Imagine the carnage if that mobile had lost traction, like happened in America that time. Again, if you would like to see a replay of the problems the mobile encountered at Albion Park last Saturday night, or the past American catastrophe involving a mobile barrier on a slippery surface, you can view both those incidents by going to the www.brisbaneracing.com.au website “Eagle Farm Race 2 Preview and Three Important Harness Racing Replays” article. Please note the American mobile barrier mayhem may be distressing to some website visitors.

Racing Queensland Cadet Handicapper, Sam Watson, has advised the scaled weights for Eagle Farm tomorrow and they are: Race 1 + 7.5kgs, Race 3 + 2.5kgs, Race 4 + 2kgs, Race 5 + 1kg, Race 8 +1.5kgs. So in my words not Sam’s, Race 1 is an absolute shocker and has about as much class as a Kings Cross streetwalker. So try to avoid getting involved in the race at all costs.

The apprentice jockey weights for tomorrow should be:

JOCKEY

WEIGHT

Samuel Payne

53.5 claims 3kgs.

Beau Appo

49 claims 3kgs.

Travis Wolfgram

53 claims 3kgs.

Geoffrey Goold

54 claims 2kgs.

Bridget Grylls

49 claims 3kgs.

Matt McGuren

55 claims 3kgs.

Cassie Schmidt

54 claims 3kgs.

Courtney Van Der Werf

53.5 claims 3kgs.

Brooke Richardson

50 claims 3kgs

Luke Dittman

55 claims 3kgs

Janette Johnson

53 claims 3kgs

 

Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au I preview Eagle Farm Race 2 tomorrow and the three aforesaid harness races are linked. On www.sydneyracing.com.au we look at Steve Turnbull going for 200 winners in the season after he went within half a win last year of achieving that milestone, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au Matt Nicholls looks at Caulfield.

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