Opinion flows freely after Oliver outed

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He can be a polarising figure, Damien Oliver.

Few would argue he is not one of the greatest horsemen of all time – 111 Group 1s (and still counting?) and 10 Melbourne Jockeys’ Premierships attest to that – and those who do lack credibility straight away.

But there is no shortage of those capable of recognising his brilliance who are also happy to sink the boots in whenever the opportunity arises.

You only need to look at Sandown on Wednesday, where Oliver incurred the stewards’ wrath for his ride on Redcore in the opening event, for evidence of that.

He shifted in at the 900m, severely hampering Craig Williams on $1.30 favourite Esperance, which in turn severely impacted on the chances of two other runners.

One of those was fifth placegetter Secret Reward, who stewards’ protested on behalf of against Redcore (who was fourth over the line), despite the margin between the pair being 1.5 lengths.

When the dust had settled there, and the protest was quickly upheld, stewards hit Oliver with a 14-meeting suspension.

The court of public opinion seemed against Oliver. Most who took the time to weigh in on the verdict felt he got off lightly. Some felt the need to bring up past indiscretions to lend weight to their argument.

That’s despite his stewards’ room argument being extremely plausible. Oliver claimed he had been ‘stitched up’ by Williams, who he suggested accentuated the interference after fearing he might be stuck three-wide aboard the hot pot if he let him cross.

Williams said he was in no position to ease and that he was ‘just a passenger’ after Esperance, who was having just his second start, took charge while racing among horses.

But Oliver argued had Williams made a late decision to hold his spot, after initially appearing happy to concede to him, there wouldn’t have been any interference at all.

It was spirited debate and the multiple angles that are now available made for fascinating viewing.

They were replayed numerous times, starting when Brad Rawiller, rider of Secret Reward, viewed the film straight after the race – before electing not to protest – again during the hearing when stewards’ protested on Rawiller’s behalf and also when stewards quizzed Williams and Arron Lynch, rider of The Sword, in the inquiry.

What was clear was that Oliver shifted in when not clear of Williams. Oliver admitted that.

But it was also clear he looked every couple of strides and tried to ease as soon as he heard Williams call, which Oliver said was either later than normal or he couldn’t hear initially due to the strong prevailing winds early in the meeting.

The Hall of Fame hoop later claimed Williams ‘used him’ and described his actions as ‘selfish’ as it put fellow riders in danger.

Bear in mind, this accusation came from the jockey who has ridden in more races in Melbourne than any other active rider since 1990, so he knows what goes on in the heat of battle.

Oliver claimed there was not a fellow rider at Sandown on Wednesday that did not think he had been ‘stitched up’.

Most interestingly, neutral observers offered the same thought before Oliver even presented it to stewards.

One trainer who regularly calls on Williams and rarely uses Oliver only needed to watch a couple of replays to know Oliver’s argument had weight.

A senior jockey, who has ridden against the pair for well over a decade, was of the same belief.

But they also knew Oliver had to get time. Even Oliver knew that. Stewards seemed to take on board his defence – conceding they were ‘sympathetic to that element’ – but ultimately had little choice but to hit him with a lengthy ban given the high range of interference caused.

Oliver will ride at Caulfield on Saturday – although his ride in the Group 2 P.B. Lawrence Stakes, Duke Of Brunswick, has been scratched – before missing a fortnight, which includes the $1 million Group 1 Memsie Stakes meeting.

It was also an early warning that the off-season is well and truly behind us and things are about to get serious with spring just around the corner.

www.racing.com 

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