Cashed-up Oliver leaves cynical minds racing
CYNICS - and not surprisingly there were a few of them in the Racing Victoria foyer on Tuesday - wondered why it took Damien Oliver several minutes to emerge from the hearing room to deliver what was flagged as a short statement. Perhaps he was trying to replicate for the cameras the raw emotion he'd displayed behind closed doors?
''Firstly of all, I want to apologise to the racing industry and everyone here today,'' Oliver eventually said, stony-faced and calm. ''I'm deeply sorry for my actions, and, um … yep, thank you for everyone.''
And that was it. As a public utterance, it was in keeping with this sorry affair - heavy on supposed contrition, and leaving those seeking answers with jaws agape.
In a sport that demands an at-times unhealthy abandonment of self-preservation, Oliver is teak-hard. On Tuesday, as he threw himself at the mercy of the men who would decide his fate, he fought back tears.
Having jeopardised his livelihood because he feared losing his family, he turned to them in a bid to save his career. His visage reflected his sombre blue suit; he repeatedly choked up while telling the panel of stewards that he'd been battling problems with alcohol, binge drinking sporadically, and was despondent and depressed after the breakdown of his marriage when he bet against his own horse in October, 2010. He asked them to believe this was a one-off mistake made by a lonely man who feared losing everything.
''The period throughout 2010-11 was probably the worst period of my life,'' Oliver said.
Happy days: Damien Oliver, pictured on Happy Trails after winning the Emirates Stakes, has been banned for 10 months. Photo: Pat Scala
After a long pause while he gathered himself, his plea for understanding and leniency continued.
''My wife had taken the children from me and was residing in Warrnambool.''
Again, he stopped to compose himself.
''I was now living alone, and was unsure if I would be able to save my marriage. The separation, together with dealing with my own personal issues, brought me to a great sense of loss, loneliness and even took away my own self-belief.''
Oliver asked the authorities to see him as a man who had made a grave error of judgment, a spur of the moment decision taken independently. Adding to his stress, he said, was the prospect of incurring significant legal costs as his family life disintegrated.
So he placed a $10,000 bet on a horse he was riding against.
Oliver was not questioned by the RVL panel on Tuesday, and it is unknown if they ever put to him that 10 grand would seem a hefty wager for a first-time punter.
His notion of ''spur of the moment'' prompted some amusing Twitter observations; lunch in Paris, anyone?
His counsel, Robert Richter, QC, was at pains to make it clear that Oliver had ridden his horse, Europa Point, to the absolute best of his ability, and that this could not be questioned.
Oliver reported that he had undergone psychological and alcohol counselling, has since made peace with wife Trish, and lives with her and their three children in Port Melbourne. Those dark days of two years ago must seem a long time ago.
In a much shorter time, he will be back in the saddle and free to ride on his sport's biggest stage.
Racing Victoria released a statement saying consideration had been given to standing him down from this year's carnival. Even with damning evidence from the man who placed his bet (Mark Hunter) and the trainer who passed on the winnings (Robert Smerdon), the investigative committee ''formed the view that its best prospects of securing a certain conviction was to obtain an admission of guilt from Oliver''.
This did not come until the carnival was over. By then, Oliver had ridden three feature winners, pocketing more than $100,000 in prizemoney.
This should be enough to tide him over until next September. How punters with problems of their own who backed Europa Point that night in 2010 are faring remains unknown. Just like much of the grubby detail of this shameful affair.