- 'The worst period of my life': Oliver's plea for leniency
- COMMENT: Top jockey broke two of the iron-clad rules
Disgraced jockey Damien Oliver has been disqualified for eight months after admitting to placing a $10,000 bet via a third party on a rival horse in a race in which he rode in 2010. Oliver has received a further two months' suspension for using a mobile phone in the area of the jockeys room against the rules.
Oliver broke down as he admitted to stewards that he had placed the bet on a horse against which he was riding in a race at Moonee Valley two years ago, with former Western Bulldogs player and form analyst Mark Hunter named for the first time as the man who put the bet on for him.
Oliver confessed that he had made the call on his mobile phone from the jockeys' room at the track, another clear breach of Australian racing rules.
The 40-year-old cited psychological stress, injury and the imminent breakdown of his marriage as key factors for what his counsel, Robert Richter, subsequently described as ''a single, isolated lapse of judgment''.
Stewards gave Oliver an eight month disqualification to be followed by a two month suspension allowing him to return to riding trackwork. During his disqualification, Oliver is banned from racetracks and stables.
After the hearing, Oliver issued a statement apologising to trainers, owners and supporters.
"People must not assume that my misdeed and lack of judgment ... reflects on jockeys or the industry broadly," he said.
"I ask my fellow jockeys for whom I have the greatest respect to forgive my actions."
In a hearing at Racing Victoria headquarters the jockey at the centre of the carnival betting storm cut a slim, distressed figure, at times struggling to present his case as his voice cracked with emotion.
Oliver, who has won all four of Australia's greatest races — the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup and Golden Slipper — has nerves of steel when seated on a horse, but he presented a fragile, emotionally vulnerable persona in the hearing as he recreated the events leading up to the fateful night at the Valley when he placed the bet on Miss Octopussy, the favourite in a race in which he rode the market's second choice, Europa Point.
Oliver said that he had been under enormous stress because of problems in his marriage to his wife Trish, the mother of his three children. He admitted that at the time he also had a problem with alcohol, was prone to binge drinking sessions and, despite his considerable success on the race track, was losing his self confidence as a jockey.
''My wife and I have three children and there was a period when she moved to her parents with the children. I feared I would lose my marriage. I felt very depressed about the personal problems I was feeling at the time.''
Oliver said he feared that significant legal fees he would incur as a result of any potential marriage break up added to the stress he felt and clouded his judgment.
But, he insisted, he rode his horse to the best of his ability and gave it every chance to win.
He said that on the night of the race he called Mark Hunter as an ‘‘unplanned’’ and ‘‘spur of the moment decision’’ and spoke to no other trainers or officials.
Oliver was paid $11,000, he said, as a result of the bet, with the money being passed to him in cash by Caulfield-based trainer Robert Smerdon.
''The period around 2010-11 was probably the worst period in my life,'' he said.
Rob Richter, QC, representing Oliver, had urged stewards to be lenient, citing Oliver's age, his status in the profession and the fact that he had admitted his offence, allowing them to make a case, Richter said.
The lawyer contended that Oliver's case should be measured against other jockeys who have laid bets in recent times, in particular Blake Shinn, the former Sydney rider, and Peter Robl, both of whom invested much greater amounts over a lengthy period.
Richter said that Oliver's mental health and domestic situation should be powerful mitigation for what was, he argued, an uncharacteristic action by a man who had been at the top of the tree for more than 20 years. The fact that he had co-operated and shown both remorse and contrition should also be taken into account, Richter added.
Richter told the stewards that Lee Freedman, the trainer of Europa Point — and the man with whom Oliver had lived for several years as a teenage apprentice when he moved to Melbourne from his native Perth — had given the jockey a ''powerful character reference'', saying he had never known him to bet. Freedman had no problems with the ride on the night in question and was happy to employ Oliver as a jockey again,'' Richter said.
''At the time he committed these breaches he was subject to extreme personal health issues ... at the time he was under treatment ... he was suffering the after effects of injury and psychological distress."
Richter urged stewards to be lenient in their sentence, arguing that a lengthy disqualification at Oliver's age ''would have a far greater impact than it would for someone who was not 40 years of age.
''The breach is totally out of character.''
Then as Oliver prepared to ride highly fancied Americain in the Melbourne Cup two weeks ago, The Age broke the news that Oliver had admitted the alleged wrongdoing to Racing Victoria investigators — yet was free to continue his spring carnival campaign.