Sport

Damien Oliver disqualified after pleading guilty to $10k bet

RACING Victoria chairman Michael Duffy has defended the 10-month riding ban handed to champion jockey Damien Oliver after he pleaded guilty to placing a $10,000 bet on a rival horse in 2010.

Oliver fronted a hearing in Melbourne Tuesday morning where he pleaded guilty to charges of betting on a rival horse and using a mobile phone in the jockeys' room.

He was disqualified from riding for eight months and had his licence suspended for two months on the first charge, and received a concurrent one-month suspension on the second charge.

The ban, which is effective from November 13, means he will be free to ride in next year's spring racing carnival.
Oliver made a brief statement to the media after leaving the hearing.

"I want to apologise to the racing industry and everyone here today. I am deeply sorry for my actions," Oliver said before declining to speak further.

RV was heavily criticised for allowing Oliver to ride in this year's carnival - during which he booted him three group one winners - despite revelations he had admitted to placing the bet.

Mr Duffy said the investigation chronology released by RV after Tuesday's hearing made it clear "why public commentary wasn't possible throughout the course of the committee's investigative process".

The chronology confirmed Oliver had entered "without prejudice" discussions with the RV investigative committee on October 22.

"As these discussions were held on a without prejudice basis, the committee was obliged to maintain the confidentiality of those discussions and not to disclose the content of those discussions," the RV statement read.

On November 12, two days after the final meeting of the spring carnival, Oliver provided a signed admission to the committee.

Social media sites lit up on Tuesday, with people claiming the 10-month ban was too lenient.

But Mr Duffy said the sentence was appropriate when compared with similar cases. He said the only relevant precedent was that of jockey Blake Shinn in New South Wales.

Shinn was disqualified for a total period of 15 months over a series of bets, with this aggregate penalty reduced on appeal to 12 months disqualification.

"It is my belief that the penalty delivered in today's stewards' inquiry was appropriate given the cooperation afforded by Mr Oliver and the matters put forward on his behalf in mitigation of penalty," Mr Duffy said.

"The result of today's stewards' inquiry has sent a powerful message to the jockey profession that there is a zero tolerance of any breaches of the prohibition on betting."

While this matter was "now closed", he said the committee's other investigations would continue. The committee was originally formed to investigate the Smoking Aces race fixing affair, but had its brief extended to probe the Oliver allegations.

During the hearing on Tuesday Oliver broke down as he spoke about the range of personal problems he was experiencing at the time of placing the bet.

Oliver's wife had left him and he was battling issues with alcohol. He told the committee it was "the worst period of my life".

He told the hearing it was a "spur of the moment" decision to place the $10,000 wager on race favourite Miss Octopussy at Moonee Valley in 2010.

It was revealed he used a mobile phone to contact former AFL player and professional punter Mark Hunter to place the bet using credit.

The bet was made through retired bookmaker Laurie Bricknell, who later paid Hunter with two $10,500 cheques.

The money was passed to Oliver via trainer Robert Smerdon.

Oliver, 40, said it was the only time he had ever bet on a rival horse.

The two-time Melbourne Cup-winning jockey rode the second favourite Europa Point to sixth place in the race, telling the hearing he gave it every chance to win.

Robert Richter QC, who represented Oliver at the hearing, argued for a leaner sentence because his client had admitted to making the bet and had not attempted to cover it up.

He also cited Oliver's age and injury history in asking for leniency.

Victorian Jockeys' Association executive officer Des O'Keeffe said the matter highlighted the industry's failure to educate jockeys about the importance of racing's rules.

He said if administrators were serious about the issue of betting by jockeys, then a broader review of the position of jockeys in the industry was needed.

"Punter confidence is paramount in this business. Jockeys need to understand that if they act in a manner that undermines confidence in the integrity of the sport, it is intolerable," he said.

"Repercussions from this poor decision making will flow on to owners, trainers, breeders, officials and the general public who support racing."

Mr O'Keeffe said the VJA was disappointed and concerned by Oliver's breach of "such a fundamental rule", but acknowledged his contribution to racing.

"For his mistake Damien Oliver will pay a heavy price, both personally and professionally," he said.

"There's no doubt Damien Oliver will be his own harshest critic in the days and months ahead and we will continue to offer him support."

INVESTIGATION TIMELINE

August 21: The Racing Victoria board appoints a Racing Victoria Investigation Committee to investigate the race fixing media reports relating to the race won by Smoking Aces.

August 30: RV board extends the committee's brief to investigate the allegation against Damien Oliver shortly after receipt of a report from the Racing Integrity Commissioner, Sal Perna. The report centres on an allegation from an unidentified source Oliver had placed a $10,000 bet on Miss Octopussy at Moonee Valley in October, 2010. Oliver rode Europa Point in the race.

October 16: The committee - comprising deputy chairman of stewards Rob Montgomery and stipendiary steward James Hitchcock (with legal advice from barrister Tony Burns) - contacts Oliver to make an appointment to conduct an interview. Through his solicitors, Oliver was reluctant to be interviewed by the committee having regard to his legal right to silence.

October 22: Oliver's legal representatives contact the committee and request a "without prejudice" conference, which is held between Oliver's legal representatives and the committee on that day. Without prejudice discussions continue between Oliver's legal representatives and the committee up until November 12. As these discussions were held on a without prejudice basis, the committee was obliged to maintain the confidentiality of those discussions and not to disclose the content of those discussions.

October 25: committee interviews Mark Hunter, racehorse owner, form analyst and punter.

November 1: committee interviews trainer Robert Smerdon.

November 5: committee interviews Lee Freedman, trainer of Europa Point.

November 7: committee interviews Laurie Bricknell, racehorse owner, retired bookmaker, punter and resident in Queensland

November 12: a signed admission from Oliver is provided to the committee.

November 13: RV stewards charge Oliver with breaches of the Rules of Racing. Oliver is stood down from rising pending a hearing.

November 20: Oliver is banned from riding for 10 months.

*During the without prejudice period, the committee gave careful consideration as to whether immediate action should or could be taken against Oliver (including standing him down) prior to the laying of formal charges. The committee formed the view that its best prospects of securing a certain conviction was to obtain an admission of guilt from Oliver. Accordingly, the option of standing him down prior to the laying of charges was not pursued on the basis that this would have most likely jeopardised an admission being obtained which would be admissible in any stewards inquiry. The committee also took into account that an admission would most likely provide further evidence in relation to the actions of others.

Topics:  betting scandal, damien oliver, disqualification, guilty plea, horse racing, suspension


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