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Murky happenings but racing industry seems to have its blinkers on

What is it with Australia's love for criminals and shady characters?

That lovable rogue Ned Kelly (or thief and murderer depending on your perspective) is now a national figure we use to lure tourists to Glenrowan in country Victoria.

Our de facto national anthem is about a sheep rustler who drowns himself to avoid getting caught.

We hardly batted an eyelid when Shane Warne tested positive for a diuretic, and when Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee won a big wad of cash betting on England to beat them it was just a bit of fun.

Our racing industry is littered with questionable characters who do not seem to have damaged the sport much at all.

Is Damien Oliver another a case in point? Maybe it comes from this country's convict roots, which has created a cynicism for the law and authority figures.


The original Underbelly series captured the imagination of the nation with its tales about Melbourne's gangland wars between the Morans and Carl Williams.

We seem to be drawn to the darker side of Australia and the sporting world would appear to be the same.

Whatever it is, it certainly isn't healthy for the racing industry.

But we don't seem to be quite so generous when it happens in other countries - think Lance Armstrong.

Last Tuesday, Fairfax reported that Oliver had admitted to betting on a rival horse in a race he was riding at Moonee Valley.

And while there's been no suggestion the high-profile hoop prevented his own horse, Europa Point, from winning, it's hardly a good look for either Oliver or racing.

He's not meant to bet on horses at all - let alone against the one he's meant to be riding to victory.

Even the cleaners at AFL clubs are forbidden from gambling on Aussie rules, and bets as small as $2 are cause for dismissal.

It's a far cry from the $10,000 Oliver allegedly put on Miss Octopussy two years ago.

That the racing industry seems to have turned a blind eye and allowed him to continue riding until the end of the spring carnival is perplexing at best. Meanwhile, Oliver bagged two group 1s in the space of a week. How do we know he hasn't been betting against other rides he's had?

But when he saluted on Happy Trails in the Emirates Stakes on Saturday everybody cheered.

Former jockey John Letts interviewed him straight after the race and was full of praise.

What a ride! He put aside all the drama and criticism and overcame the odds! It's a Cinderella story!

He seemed to have forgotten Oliver's alleged actions undermine the integrity and very fabric of the sport that has made him a star.

And where was the obvious question: which horse did he back?

Judging by the result, Happy Trails would be the obvious answer.

Maybe my bet on Fawkner might have got up if Oliver wasn't on board!

I've just finished reading Matthew Benns's book Fixed: Cheating, Doping, Rape and Murder … The Inside Track on Australia's Racing Industry.

It does not paint a pretty picture.

There are allegations of women jockeys being raped, completely unethical horse sales, drug cheats, race-fixing by owners, trainers, jockeys, bookies and stewards. Some of Australia's biggest racing names get dragged through the mud - Waterhouse, Cassidy, Nikolic, Cummings. Even Queanbeyan's legendary sprinter Takeover Target gets a mention.

The punters are justifiably left scratching their heads and wondering why they're parting with their hard-earned money for an industry that seems to be turning a blind eye to its obvious problems.

But maybe I'm just a bitter punter.

I'm sure Oliver's a top bloke and a loveable Aussie larrikin.

She'll be right.