WINNING isn’t everything. But try telling that to those who find themselves on the wrong side of sport’s authorities. The excruciating scenes played out around the suspensions of Australian cricketers Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft after last year’s disgraceful ball tampering saga have some correlation to the latest integrity crisis gripping horse racing.
The cricketers pointed to a culture of winning at all costs. Between their tears and subsequent unseemly finger pointing they clearly felt they were doing what was being asked of them. And that to do so, they felt they were right to break the rules. Until they were caught.
Interestingly cricket’s roots are steeped in betting, ball tampering and gamesmanship. Horse racing too has always been built around the punt.
While match fixing and ball tampering scandals are tolerably irregular in cricket, horse racing has always been dogged by controversy driven by money. Fortunes are won and lost. Reputations are similarly fraught. Trainers and jockeys caught doing the wrong thing by stewards, police and the more-recent integrity bodies all chirp versions of the lines used recently by our Test cricketers.
Arguments rage around the ability of the racing industry to stamp out age-old and constantly evolving ways of winning or losing according to how the odds are framed. The state government is being seen to crack down hard on those who feel they can operate above or beneath the law.
But what’s most damaging about horse racing’s regular airing of dirty linen is the impact it has on the wider industry. Victoria and Warrnambool has been at the centre of many of these recent controversies, such as the cobalt and Aquanita scandals. This is impossible to digest for the majority of the horse-owning and loving population who love their equine mates, the thrill of racing and the excitement of a modest flutter.
Their lives are utterly dissimilar to those of the big trainers and top jockeys. It is their hopes and expectations that those who are tempted to rig horse racing have lost touch with. And that is the saddest thing of all.