'Right decision' to keep Oliver on Cup favourite: owner
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The owner of the Melbourne Cup favourite Americain, Gerry Ryan, learned yesterday afternoon that the betting storm over his big-race rider Damien Oliver was set to break.
But the Melbourne based-businessman and sporting identity said he and connections did not consider changing riders for the $6.2 million race, despite the scrutiny and pressure Oliver would be under following revelations in The Age that he had admitted to stewards that he had bet heavily on a different horse in a race in which he was riding.
Under pressure ... Jockey Damien Oliver at Flemington this morning. Photo: Justin McManus
"He rang late yesterday to say what was going to happen but that he was committed and focused and that he wouldn't let us down," said Ryan, whose horse won the Cup in 2010 when ridden by French jockey Gerard Mosse.
Asked if he thought the situation called for the owners to stand the rider down, Ryan took a pragmatic view, suggesting that after a lifetime in racing it would be naive to think that "over the years jockeys haven't had a financial interest" in some of the horses they ride.
The Victorian opposition will ask the state's racing watchdog to launch an inquiry into the handling of the Oliver betting scandal by Racing Victoria.
Star jockey Damien Oliver expects to be charged soon. Photo: Pat Scala
Opposition racing spokesman Martin Pakula told Fairfax that he would ask Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna to investigate the matter after revelations that Oliver had admitted to racing authorities a fortnight ago that he had placed a bet on a rival horse in an October 2010 race.
The opposition's decision to refer the matter to Mr Perna came after racing minister Denis Napthine refused on 3AW radio this morning to answer any questions about the handling of the matter.
Dr Napthine told the radio station that Racing Victoria had the power to stand down jockeys in some circumstances but he refused to be drawn specifically on the Oliver case.
Meanwhile Racing Victoria chief steward Terry Bailey said stewards would respect the authority of a special investigation panel.
‘‘The panel still wish to investigate further and still have people to interview so until their report is ready, and I’m told that will be in the next week, we will respect the panel and the process,’’ Bailey said.
Bailey said he expected the situation would not change today.
Ryan said Oliver had shown in his long career that he could withstand any pressure once he got on the back of a horse and into a race.
"You look at Damien's history. When his brother died you would not have expected him to go out and ride that horse (Media Puzzle, on whom he won the 2002 Melbourne Cup), but he did.
"We will wait for the stewards ... but we believe this is the right decision (to retain Oliver as Americain's big-race rider)."
Ryan and the horse's Australian owners took the decision to engage Oliver for the plum ride last week, dispensing with the services of Mosse. They had not been happy with the ride the Frenchman gave the Alain de Royer Dupre-trained stallion in the Caulfield Cup, when he was a fast-finishing fourth.
They believe that Oliver's mastery of local conditions, experience, big-race flair, panache and tactical awareness would have the horse lying in a closer position through the run and able to deliver a telling challenge at an earlier stage in the race.
Fairfax Media reported this morning that some weeks ago Oliver admitted to Racing Victoria authorities that he had placed the bet, but was not immediately sanctioned as the investigation into the rider was not completed.
Oliver rode Fiveandahalfstar to win the Victoria Derby last Saturday, earning $45,000 out of the $1.5 million prize. If he wins on Americain this afternoon, he will earn $130,000.