Day At The Track

Group One decimated by sulky drama

01:23 AM 14 Dec 2014 NZDT
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Emma Stewart
The difference between a permitted sulky and one which is outside HRA specifications
David Aiken
John Anderson
Gavin Lang
Marg Lee
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No matter which way you look at it, harness racing in Victoria was the big loser tonight.

In what has been described as a “totally unprofessionalism”, Harness Racing Victoria stewards have prevented several trainers from using their UFO sulkies, which led to a host of scratchings - including six of the 10 runners in the Group One Ballarat Cup.

While the vast majority of participants accept the specific sulkies fail to meet Harness Racing Australia specifications, it is the handling of the situation which has infuriated trainers, drivers and owners alike.

Despite being made aware of the use of the specific sulkies, which are five centimetres wider than permitted, earlier in the week, HRV stewards failed to notify trainers ahead of the popular meeting.

In fact, stipes began measuring the sulkies after horses entered the parade ring for the first event.

“We were here about an hour before the first, but the stewards decided to check the sulkies after we were in the parade ring,” trainer Marg Lee declared. “It is an absolute disgrace.

“My horse (More Than Modern) was uncomfortable in the replacement sulky, was hitting the wheel, and as such, got fired up which cost him the chance to race truly.

“You bust your gut working horses to get to the races and then cop this…is there any wonder why people are getting out of the game?”

Widely-regarded as the finest reinsman produced in Australasia, Gavin Lang lashed out at stewards for their lack of foresight and handling of the situation.

“Stewards wonder there is no respect coming from participants when they do things like this,” Lang said. “They knew they were going to do this, but never told us.

“I’m very disillusioned with the process and it’s another case of the stewards being on one side of the fence and we’re on another.

“It is ridiculous…is there any other industry in the world where they don’t go through the due process before making these calls?”

Prominent trainer Emma Stewart’s four Ballarat Cup entrants were scratched from the Group One – including the favourite Guaranteed - which has left her contemplating legal action.

“This is beyond a joke,” Stewart declared. “This is why Victoria is so far behind the rest of Australia.

“We won the last race at Melton last night using one of these sulkies, then find out once we get here we can’t use it tonight.

“If they had of told us during the week we could have made some arrangements…There will definitely be legal action.”

Leading trainer David Aiken had Cold Sister scratched from the Group One V L Dullard Cup, while Thanesan contested the feature only to race out of his comfort zone.

“If the sulkies are too wide, fair enough, but they knew about this days ago and decide to tell us tonight at the track, it is unprofessional,” Aiken said. “Thanesan raced in one of the sulkies a week ago and was perfect, tonight he was bolting for Gavin as he kept hitting the wheel.”

Chief steward Neal Conder confirmed he was aware of the issue with the sulkies earlier in the week, stating he had ordered inspections last Thursday.

“I was informed by HRA during the week of concerns some UFO sulkies were wider than allowable,” Conder said. “I informed our steward who looks after gear that when next at races to measure the sulkies.

“He measured them Thursday and there was no issue, then we measured them before the first race tonight and found that some weren’t compliant with the HRA specifications.

“Trainers were only told tonight. We didn’t expect given the results on Thursday to find any that were outside regulations.

“We are bound by HRA specifications and it is our job to ensure that our participants adhere to those standards.”

HRV chief executive John Anderson stated he is “disappointed with the communication” between the stewards and participants, having only become aware of the situation upon his arrival at Ballarat.

Stewards report directly to the integrity council, and it would be up to the integrity council to advise on ways to improve processes around communication between stewards and participants

HRV has also stated it will work closely with Ballarat on a way to compensate patrons who attended tonight’s meeting.

Ballarat’s chief executive Paul Rowse revealed patrons were asking for refunds within minutes of the six Cup scratchings.

For the record, handy pacer Im Corzin Terror caused a minor upset in the four-horse field when he upstaged the $1.10 favourite, Terror To Love, in 1:59.7 for the 2710-metre trip.

- PAUL COURTS

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