Racing Victoria investigates link in race fixing and unexplained death

Danny Nikolic - accused of race fixing

Racing Victoria, which is the administrative body for racing in the Australian state, has a very clear vision: ‘to enhance the Victorian thoroughbred racing industry’s position as a leading world-class sporting industry, delivering integrity, quality and entertainment’.

The word “integrity” features highly on Racing Victoria’s website, so it came as no surprise when suggestions that race fixing was taking place there led to an investigation into what was going on. Integrity Services Commissioner Sal Perna, whose responsibilities include betting services as well as investigations, announced the enquiry, and at the same time, made it clear that he didn’t think it would find any wrongdoing.

The background to this would not be out of place in a Dick Francis novel. Linked together, or perhaps not, are a police investigation into the death of a former trainer, Les Samba, allegations that several leading jockeys have been betting on each other’s rides, and one particular race at Cranbourne. It’s a race won by Danny Nikolic on board a horse called Smoking Aces in April last year and there are suggestions that the result of this race could be linked to Samba’s death. Nikolic is accused of paying a kickback of as much as $5,000 to a rival jockey to lose the race.

Now there’s an element of A told B who reported it to C here, so it won’t be straightforward to dig to the bottom of it all. The allegations came to light in the Melbourne Herald Sun, reporting what they had been told by an anonymous source within Betfair, who also claimed to have notified Racing Victoria.

At first Rob Hines, chief executive at RV denied having heard of any claims of wrongdoing, saying, “Racing Victoria has no knowledge of the allegation regarding a jockey wagering on another horse in the same race and is not aware of the source of this allegation. If evidence is provided to support this allegation then swift action will be taken.”

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Perhaps Hines was behind on his emails, because by the following day sufficient information had come to hand for Perna to announce the enquiry and for Hines to say, “We welcome the announcement. This is an opportunity for members of the public and participants to bring forward information pertaining to any race fixing allegations and we would encourage those harbouring such evidence to be forthcoming.”

Mick Price, a leading trainer in the state, was quick to defend the standards governing racing there. He said, “This is a great industry for decent hard-working people. I hope the people who seem to be making these race fixing claims now take the opportunity to put up or shut up.”

This is not the first time that Nikolic has been at the centre of corruption allegations. Two years ago he was cleared of passing information to professional punters in a race fixing probe that involved races in both Victoria and Queensland.

Meanwhile, Racing Victoria there are rumours that three other jockeys are involved, and that up to two dozen races may have been affected, so the scope the enquiry may have to be widened. The Betfair source said they had been aware of problems for some time.

Regardless of the result of the investigation one change that may come about is a change in state legislation to allow the racing authorities to speak to anyone they suspect may be involved in corruption. At the moment, they are restricted to trainers and jockeys only, and any further concerns have to be dealt with by the police.

The Victorian Racing Minister, Denis Napthine, was open to that idea, saying that the government was ready to introduce new laws if police, racing integrity bodies or others in the industry identified need for change. ''The legislators have to be constantly vigilant and constantly ready to close a loophole or introduce a new power if they are identified and justified,'' Dr Napthine said. ''Integrity is paramount and we will do whatever is necessary to ensure integrity.''

As the Sydney Morning Herald puts it, the case continues.

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