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BATTLE OF GROUP ONE PROPORTIONS BEHIND THE SCENES AS QUEENSLAND CARNIVAL IS LAUNCHED
AS the new-look Winter Racing Carnival is launched at the Gold Coast on Saturday – with its richest ever prizemoney and a $2 million Stradbroke that will reward mediocrity being run at Doomben – a ‘secret’ battle of Group 1 proportions is brewing behind the scenes at Racing Queensland.
The ‘blame game’ has intensified within the Deagon Bunker – with some key figures fighting for their very survival – as the countdown begins to the recommendations of the MacSporran Inquiry into ‘live baiting’ in the greyhound industry being delivered to Racing Minister Bill Byrne.
Some key staff are so concerned at what they call ‘deteriorating morale at the way the Kevin Dixon-led Board is running the show’ that they want the Government to intervene and take some action to restore confidence before RQ degenerates completely into an internal battlefield.
The only thing that could save the administration in Queensland from an absolute embarrassment when the national racing spotlight focuses on the carnival is a ‘friendly media’ where most of the mainstream writers and broadcasters are viewed by many industry stakeholders and followers as too close to their ‘mates’ at the top.
Concerned by the deteriorating situation within the Deagon Bunker, ‘insiders’ have dispatched a desperate plea for the Government to take some urgent action. This website has been contacted by telephone and email with an SOS to relay their feelings to the Racing Minister.
They are not prepared to make personal contact fearing reprisals if they are identified when RQ is asked to address their complaints. Here is an example of one of the emails that we received from ‘a spy in the Deagon bunker’ who we know to be a key staff member.
‘The racing industry, the racing public, the Commission of Inquiry and the Government or Racing Minister need to be made aware of the circumstances concerning the return to duties of Integrity Chief Wade Birch.
The RQ Media Release paints a far different picture to what is emerging behind the scenes at Deagon. For starters many people got the impression that the Commission of Inquiry had orchestrated the return to work of Mr Birch.
That is certainly not the case. He was stood down by the All Codes Board and returned to duty by the same Board. But what has been kept secret is that Mr Birch returned to duties on his terms or what some call a deal struck with All Codes Board chairman Kevin Dixon, his greatest supporter and apparently rubber-stamped on the recommendation of the Chairman by the Board over which he has majority control.
Not everyone is delighted by Mr Birch’s return or the terms and conditions which he has apparently set down which has again raised questions internally and externally by those in the know about his closeness to the Chairman.
Our understanding and that of those close to the action at the Bunker is that Mr Birch only returned on the condition that he worked ONLY TWO DAYS a week in the office at Deagon and the other THREE DAYS at the Sunshine Coast where he lives.
The story doing the rounds within the bowels of RQ is that Mr Birch cannot entertain a working relationship (has confidentially told some the breakdown is irreparable) with the CEO Mr Darren Condon and that this has been accepted by Mr Dixon (and the Board).
This has led to some extremely serious questions being asked. It is well known within RQ that there was a disagreement between Wade Birch and Darren Condon over the closeness of the Head of Integrity to the All Codes Board Chairman. The time they were spending together within the office (locked away in private discussions) was not going unnoticed by staff. Mr Condon is said to have told Mr Birch he believed it was not a good look. Thus we have the current result although some are suggesting that Mr Birch is saying he doesn’t have full confidence in the Board.
Whatever the situation, it is obvious there is a lack of confidence between the Board and some key staff who cannot work together. There are stories doing the rounds in here (not idle gossip) that Mr Condon is being left out of the loop and that even some of the decisions which would normally be procedural for any CEO have to go to the Board which means the wheels of motion for the industry are spinning and the joint is going nowhere. In other words he is being stripped of his powers.
This, too, isn’t a good look when some believe Mr Condon is shaping as the ‘scapegoat for some’ for the lack of response to complaints from Animal Liberation Queensland concerning the ‘live baiting’ saga.
I can tell you the standing joke in the office these days is: QUESTION: Who do we blame if the sun doesn’t come up tomorrow? ANSWER: Darren Condon!
Staff morale has been at an all-time low for some time and just continues to deteriorate. I can assure you tjat the only one who has done anything to address this issue has been Darren Condon – not Kevin Dixon (in our opinion he’s too busy looking after his supporters), not individual members of the Board, certainly not Wade Birch (most think he’s too busy worrying about his own survival) – but singularly Darren Condon.
The sooner the outcome of this Inquiry is known the better. Most concede there is little hope of the merger of the three codes surviving. The dogs are so much on the outer it isn’t funny. Those that count politically have been never happy with the share that harness racing got (still too much many believe) under the new TAB deal. And the gallops – well all they want to do is run their own show and offload the other pair.
As for the staff who have to deal with an inquisitive racing public and stakeholder groups on a daily basis, well it isn’t fun working here. Our call is for some action to be taken now to resurrect some respectability and confidence in RQ.
The answer to that of course isn’t to hide behind the ‘spin doctored’ publicity (positive from the mainstream media, especially The Courier-Mail Turf Editor Nathan Exelby) that the winter carnival will attract. Instead those that count should be addressing and highlighting the more disturbing aspects of racing administration in Queensland and the lack of confidence there is in Kevin Dixon and his cronies.
They cannot be allowed to survive and should be stood down now. For the Racing Minister to wait for the outcome of the Inquiry and then take action might sound politically correct but it seems like an eternity for those of us at the coalface.
Would you please ensure that this gets to the appropriate authorities? We would also ask Phil Purser but don’t want to be put he or his website justracing under any more pressure as we understand he is being threatened with having his media accreditation withdrawn because he has dared to write something negative or more to the point objective.’
THE above email just about sums up the concerns of those who have called on letsgohorseracing for help which we will attempt to ensure finds the eyes and ears of the right people.
There is one important aspect of the return to work of Wade Birch that does need to be highlighted. We are assured that despite reports to the contrary doing the rounds in the industry it had nothing to do with the Integrity Commissioner Jim O’Sullivan whose role is far less significant these days than the title of ‘007 BOND’ bestowed on him by the former ‘joke’ Racing Minister ‘furlong in front’ Steve Dickson.
Hopefully in a few months time the industry can also say: Kevin who?
IT'S CERTAINLY NOT THE IMAGE THAT RACING WANTS TO PROJECT
A PIT full of dead greyhounds near Bundaberg and racehorse carcasses at Mt Magnificent in South Australia. A piglet and possums strapped to dog lures in southern Queensland and at Tooradin. An outlawed electric “jigger’’ found on the track at Mornington.
And investigations in many states into a natural salt called cobalt that, when used in illegal doses, can — allegedly — make horses run faster and might even kill them.
Horses are whipped to win, and to the outside world the three racing codes are blurred into one colossal bad look.
But maybe it’s the bad look before things get better; that the vigilance of stewards and administrators to go hard without fear or favour in all three versions of the one sport — racing animals for sport and gambling — will lead to a relatively trusted and prosperous era. Australian Trainers’ Association president Robbie Griffiths thinks so.
“Maybe this is the big broom,’’ he told MATTHEW STEWART of the HERALD SUN.
“All three codes have copped a hammering and each is making the others look bad, too. The public can’t tell the difference. But I reckon racing is good enough to ride the wave and come out the other side stronger.’’
Investigations are under way in Queensland and South Australia to find those responsible for the macabre dumping of greyhound and thoroughbred carcasses. SA stewards reckon they are homing in on the licensed person — a trainer — who dumped the dead horses, and why.
These investigations may shed some light on the brutal realities on the fringes of both sports, of overproduction and wastage in the pursuit of livelihoods and profit.
There may be lessons learnt about the occasional consequences of too many people competing for too little. These investigations may also reveal that rogues are rare and are being weeded out of an industry of predominantly good people.
Until a jigger appeared on the track at Mornington, most thought the practice was dead, like strapping piglets to lures.
Griffiths said he hadn’t been aware of jiggers for years. Maybe this is the final dark chapter for both, killed off by killer penalties.
Stables with hundreds in work somehow manage to find homes for slow and retired horses. There has been a huge push for holistic approaches to ex-racehorses — if you own it, you are responsible for it — from Racing Victoria and welfare organisations.
The greyhound industry was savaged by reports of baited piglets and possums and will always come under great scrutiny for wastage, but it has responded quickly.
IF ‘LIVE BAITING’ OF GREYHOUNDS IS CRUEL, WHAT DO YOU CALL ‘DUCK SHOOTING’?
STEFAN MEIER, of MELBOURNE, a valued contributor to the Wednesday Whinge, offers these thoughts on the future of greyhound racing.
‘HOW often have we heard that things in Australia are ‘Steeped In Tradition’.
Well, I believe one of them, greyhound racing won't be around much longer.
Now obviously in a public forum like this we have to be sensitive as to what we can and cannot say, and it won't come as any surprise if this letter goes straight to the trash button, but sometimes the truth is ugly and hard to accept.
Many years ago I was a licensed greyhound trainer. It was the seventies, and a seemingly different world to today. The people that gave out the advice were hardened, and the game was not for the feint hearted. We were taught the only way a greyhound was going to make it was for it to be so keen it had to want to go through plate glass to get to that quarry. Forget all your ‘sight hound’ and squeaky toy theories, there was only one way this was going to happen, and so it was.
If anyone wants a glimpse of what's to come, take a look at the replay of Race 10 at Mandurah on Tuesday the 14th of March. The even money favorite Rock Kingdom, just as he was about to take the lead on the home turn, changed his mind about the whole plan and the resultant carnage on the rest of the field quickly became obvious as he attacked a rival dog.
‘Traditionally’, the trainer would be hauled before the stewards for the inevitable ban and words to the effect of ‘get him interested’ or that's it. How long would we really be expecting punters to bet on this stuff once the only dogs trained on a piece of sheepskin with a squeaker in it are running around?
Interestingly though, Victoria, one of the states who decried the heinous practices of the greyhound industry, still allow duck shooting. Sentient water birds are blasted from the skies with shotguns, rarely killed, and hit the water flapping in what must be the most excruciating pain and suffering one could imagine and then I'm sure, very gently collected by a gun dog and brought to the shooter to finally end the ordeal. Of course this is regarded as a fine outstanding Australian ‘tradition’ and is to be recommended, even bringing children in to start their careers of torture.
Oh hang on, I get it now, one is using dogs for illegal animal cruelty and brutality and the other is using a different breed of dog for legal animal cruelty and brutality. Yes, got it, makes perfect sense to me.
Of course it's a different world we live in now and eventually even duck shooting will be banned as it already is in some states. Unfortunately for the greyhound industry, as the saying goes ‘you can't have one without the other’ and regardless of what today’s trainers might be trying to sell us, the truth is, it's what's known in sales circles as a DWF, a dog with fleas, and it will be punters who eventually will decide the matter once and for all.
If there's one thing punters won't put up with, it's losing their money on conveyances that aren't even trying or knocking over half of the field. Of course the industry has always had its share of these miscreants by itself, but now it's just going to turn into an epidemic. It's over folks, political correctness has got us in the butt, and sadly it's time to pack it in.’
PARLIAMENTARIAN FIGHTS RQ FOR THE SURVIVAL OF RACING IN MACKAY
by TERRY BUTTS of the NQ REGISTER
A prominent State politician has launched a blistering attack on Racing Queensland which he claims is forcing the Mackay Turf Club to an embarrassing shut down.
Member for Mirani, Jim Pearce, says the cut back in race dates and prize money, announced recently by RQ, will be catastrophic for east coast regional racing.
In a strongly worded statement the elected member has called on RQ to urgently reconsider a decision to cut race dates by six and prize money by $600 a race.
“I will not be letting this happen without a few bloody noses on the way,” he warned.
These comments were contained in one of two statements issued by Mr Pearce in the past week – and he told this writer yesterday that he is deadly serious.
Mr Pearce has already communicated with the officers of the Racing Minister (Rockhampton-based Bill Byrne) who advised that there was no legislative powers under which the Minister could intervene.
“I respect and understand the limitations of the Government of the day to influence a Statutory Board established as the control body for the thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing codes in Queensland”.
DON’T UNDER-ESTIMATE HOW CLOSE MACKAY MP IS TO RACING MINISTER
BUT as an electorate neighbour and colleague, Jim Pearce is obviously ‘close’ to Minister Byrne.
He said cut backs in any form are not in the best interest of local economies – if our thoroughbred racing industry fails, Racing Queensland will be held responsible for the hundreds of jobs put at risk, cash flow decline across the local small business sector will inflict even more pain on an already sick economy.
“I am taking this stand for Central Queensland and I am prepared to take the issue to the floor of Parliament”.
“There is a history around the performance of the (Mackay) Turf Club and the involvement of Racing Queensland in this unfortunate situation”.
Mr Pearce said media reports last year revealed that Racing Queensland had stepped in as a guarantor for the club after it emerged that it was trading insolvent with at least a $300,000 debt.
A subsequent audit report found that the figure was much higher.
“There is no suggestion that volunteers called on to oversee the operations of the Mackay Turf Club have anything to answer for. In fact all persons have been given a formal clearance”.
Mr Pearce said in April 2014 the Chief Executive Officer at the time, Mr Graham Thornton, was reported as saying – “the club was looking at a rapid turnaround plan.”
“Despite the hopes of the Central Queensland racing industry stakeholders the plan never got off the ground. Some people are now saying it was set up to fail.
“Racing Queensland has failed to do its job as the self-appointed manager of a crisis which has gone from bad to a an absolute disaster and it must now disclose to the public why it is forcing the Mackay Turf Club to face an embarrassing shut down.
“To have any chance of a successful future the Turf Club must be supported with real actions from the control body.
“From what I now know I believe that given the opportunity and the genuine backing of Racing Queensland the club can work off the debt and again become a viable business that Mackay can be proud of.
“In fact I am prepared to do what I can to keep the horses racing at Ooralee”.
RQ CEO Darren Condon said last night Mr Pearce had been ‘ill-informed’ on the Mackay situation,
MP DISPUTES CLAIMS BY CEO THAT RQ IS WORKING CLOSE TO SAVE MTC
IN another, separate, but vicious attack on RQ released yesterday, Jim Pearce said claims by CEO Darren Condon that the control body was ‘working closely with the Mackay Turf Club to ensure its future viability’ are wrong.
“The rhetoric is not a true representation of what is happening at the race club,” he asserted.
The Member for Mirani said that while the track, gardens and surrounds are in excellent condition, care and maintenance of key infrastructure was falling well short of acceptable standards to owners and trainers.
He said the poor condition of toilet facilities upset race day patrons, the horse exercise pool pumps have failed leaving water with a putrid odour and ‘I am told that the training track inside running rail is not up to standard’.
“With RQ set to slash race dates and reduce prize money, the club is being set up to fail.
“Racing Queensland owes it to the people of Mackay to come clean, be honest with them about its agenda.”
Mr Pearce said RQ had an obligation to back Mackay, manage the business out of its troubles through consultation and co-operation.
“When RQ stepped in to take control of the club there was a debt. However, a failure to address the problems has seen that debt blow out by $250,000 to $300,000.
“I am hoping for an outcome that keeps the Mackay Turf Club racing. If we are unable to achieve this through commonsense, then I will be left with no option but to raise the matter in the Parliament where I can put all the facts out there for the public to judge,” he said.
NEW GOALS FOR LETSGOHORSERACING WEBSITE
THE aim of LETSGOHORSERACING when first established was a non-profit website designed to be different to the hundreds of other racing websites operating throughout the world. Nothing has changed on that front except that our emphasis has been on feedback. We listened to what you wanted and learned that racing stakeholders, punters and followers were keen to HAVE THEIR SAY. This was reflected in the response to the WEDNESDAY WHINGE which has seen the popularity of this web site (through hits) soar to incredible heights. It has also drawn detractors from within the industry - especially in Queensland - from officials who aren't used to having the job they do put under the microscope which has rarely happened for many years in the mainstream racing media. Websites like ours and justracing have got up the nose of officials at RQ and will continue to do so. Despite legal intimidation which we are told is aimed at closing us down or intimidating us into refusing to follow up controversial issues letsgohorseracing and the Wednesday Whinge are here to stay. But that means increasing costs to fight these legal threats, improve the quality of our website and to overcome that we are now accepting advertising and have decided to pursue a LETSHORSEHORSERACING LATE MAIL SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE. It's unique, it's different, it's affordable. YOU CAN SUBSCRIBE NOW.
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'SILKS AND SADDLES' with TERRY BUTTS
SILKS & SADDLES is a popular weekly column written by respected racing writer TERRY BUTTS that we run courtesy of one of Australia’s leading rural newspapers, the NORTH QUEENSLAND REGISTER. Butts is an old-style racing journalist who shoots from the hip and takes no prisoners. He resents the 'suck-up and survive' mentality of some of the new breed of racing journalists in the print and broadcast media.
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