Opinion: Harness racing chiefs shouldn't shoot the messenger

Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images
The harness racing industry has been in the spotlight over the past 12 months, mostly for all of the wrong reasons.

Allegations of drug use, horses not being driven to their potential in order to land good bets and other issues have been the basis of a joint police and Racing Integrity Unit investigation called Operation Inca.

A number of people have been before the courts and dealt with, others are still to know their fate. A lot of the evidence has been suppressed.

The industry has been badly tarnished as a result of Inca at a time when there have also been many good things happening - the tremendously successful NZ Cup and Inter Dominion meetings for example.

In recent weeks, starnews.co.nz has also reported on two assault allegations being investigated by police, one involving a trainer who allegedly assaulted a woman, and another involving an incident at the Kaikoura trots. A trainer is alleged to have punched another trainer, leaving him with a nasty facial injury.

We have also reported on an investigation underway into the suspected use of xenon gas on horses which makes them go faster. The gas is administered to horses through a nebuliser.

An average horse which won recently ran like a NZ Cup winner. Word within the industry is that it had been gassed. It landed those in the know thousands of dollars in winning bets apparently.

Starnews.co.nz has received a lot of feedback on our coverage - mostly positive and from people in the industry who want the rogues exposed, which they hope will put pressure on people running the industry to clean it up.

All they want is an even playing field when they put their horses on the track.

Which brings me to my point.

There was a Judical Control Authority hearing recently into charges laid by the RIU against prominent trainer Nigel McGrath.

The RIU is an independent body which investigates and prosecutes breaches of the Rules of Racing across the harness, galloping and greyhound codes. The JCA is an independent statutory authority constituted under the Racing Act.

McGrath has been charged with committing an offence detrimental to harness racing. It is alleged he drove his horse Star Commander in a race at Addington in late March in a manner that it would assist or favour another runner Sheriff.

Both horses are trained by McGrath.

Sheriff won the race and then went on a week later to win the prestigous New Zealand Derby.

All of the evidence presented at the hearing has been suppressed. Chaired by High Court judge John Gendall, it will resume in late January when more evidence will be presented.

McGrath is innocent until proven guilty.

There are legal heavyweights involved. McGrath is represented the very experienced Pip Hall QC, while the prosecution is headed by Auckland-based lawyer Brian Dickey, the Crown Prosecutor in the recent Grace Millane homicide case.

At the JCA hearing, a senior harness racing official approached our reporter during a break. He was clearly not happy media was there.

Why? This was a hearing open to the public. Courts and judicial hearings are all about transparency.

"When's your bloody newspaper going to write something positive about harness racing," he asked.

He made another jibe to the reporter in the lift at the end of the hearing.

Now this harness racing official also has what could be said is a conflict of interest in this particular case. This is not relevant to the charges and won't be a factor in the hearing, but nonetheless it does give an insight into how some key people in the industry think.

We will continue to cover harness racing - both the good and the bad - in a fair and impartial manner. The public and the industry deserves it.

I hope harness racing officials do their job in the same manner.




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