Mark Azzopardi Furious After GRNSW Act Despite Agreement

Mark Azzopardi Furious After GRNSW Act Despite Agreement

GRNSW have announced that the inquiry into the analysts’ reports of the finding of benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, in the urine sample taken from Transcend Time after the greyhound took out a race at Maitland on the 28th March 2013 will recommence this Monday (2nd September 2013).

The trainer in question, Mark Azzopardi, has faced suspension since the inquiry opened on the 28th June, with all of the greyhounds in his name at the time transferred into the name of Preston Rowles. Since then, Rowles has raced a reasonably large team of greyhounds successfully, under an agreement that he could train both at his Narellan property and from Azzopardi’s Appin setup.

This all changed on Thursday when GRNSW decided to take action against Rowles by refusing the nominations of his greyhounds and scratching his runner, Jagger Swagger, from Maitland when the dog arrived on course.

The matter has created quite a buzz. After the arrangement had been in place for a number of months, why have GRNSW chosen to act now?

Distressed by the situation, Azzopardi has decided to speak out and has explained the entire matter from his perspective

“Earlier this year, I received a positive swab. I was notified the day after the Bulli Cup. Clint Bentley and a private investigator, William Buckman, came to my house and advised me of the swab and searched the premises. I copped it on the chin and they set a date for the inquiry”, Azzopardi said.

“When I got the positive swab my license was suspended. My good friend (Preston Rowles) who I have been doing dogs together with for years moved in and so they didn’t suspend the greyhounds we transferred the dogs into Preston’s name and he took over the training”.

“I went to the first hearing. Bill Fanning and Terrence Hines went through the details about the swab and then agreed with my solicitor that I am allowed to live on the property, trial and handle the greyhounds that I own and that the only thing I couldn’t do was present a dog on race days”.

“I followed their rules. Preston moved in but he also owns a property at Narellan so he has been going back and forth”.

“Bill Fanning agreed with my solicitor that I could still go to the track but I can’t present them on race day and I have obliged by those rules all the way”.

“I have been going to the track to enjoy a night out but I haven’t been handling”.

With this arrangement seemingly running smoothly whilst Azzopardi awaited the recommencement of the inquiry, the former leading trainer was shocked at what happened when he arrived at the track on Thursday

“Preston had four dogs nominated for Dapto, and the best dog, Jagger Swagger, nominated to race at Maitland over 450 metres”.

“Preston has a job and he can’t be everywhere so he paid another bloke to bring Jagger Swagger to Maitland”.

“He got out of the car(at the track) and then I got out of the car and we were approached by the track steward and the private investigator in the car park”.

“They handed me a letter and said that Jagger Swagger was withdrawn because I was presenting him. I said I hadn’t touched the dog and I asked them for proof. The private investigator said he had been watching me for a few days and that he had followed me up from Sydney”.

“I rang Bill Fanning who advised me that Jagger Swagger had been scratched. I asked why and he said that they had sufficient evidence compiled that I had been heavily involved on race day”.

“I said that I would leave the track but I was told the dog was already scratched”.

Assuming the scratching was planned, at least to some degree, in the sense that a letter had been prepared for Azzopardi upon arrival, leaves one wondering why they waited for them to travel all the way to Maitland before announcing the decision.

“They let Preston pay this guy to bring the dog on a 3 1/2- 4 hour trip and had a private investigator follow us. Why couldn’t they have just rung him in the morning?”

Rowles was then given an ultimatum. If he intended to keep racing, his greyhounds must be relocated to his Narellan kennels from Azzopardi’s property at Appin otherwise they would be scratched from upcoming meetings and his nominations would be refused. This is another confusing point - obviously GRNSW realised that Azzopardi was living at his own premises so what has made them change their rules now?

Azzopardi is not impressed, saying that if GRNSW had an issue with the training arrangement in the beginning, he would have moved out of his property.

“If Bill Fanning had have said from the start that I couldn’t touch them and that I couldn’t live here I would have moved out but I have just done what they have told me I could do”.

The matter is frustrating for Rowles and owner Tyrone Whittington, who owns the majority of the greyhounds trained by Rowles, as the greyhound that has been severely affected is kennel star, Jagger Swagger. Jagger Swagger is a three time group winning greyhound currently on his way back from injury. His run at Maitland was no doubt a lead up run in preparation for the group one Dapto Megastar, for which he has received an invitation.

“He (Rowles) hasn’t done anything wrong- he has a house, work and kids, leave him alone”.

“I just want this whole thing to be over and done with”.

As for what comes next, the greyhounds from the Appin property that are engaged over the next few days have been moved to Narellan so that they can compete in their respective races. However, the full kennel could not be transported at such short notice meaning that some will be restricted on the racetrack.

Azzopardi’s inquiry will be held on Monday and, after one of the most controversial and complicated inquiries in recent times, hopefully a verdict will be reached as to his training future and ultimately what will happen with the team of chasers currently racing for Rowles.

It is important to note that the point of this article is in no way to condone the use of banned substances in greyhound racing. In fact, it is one of the most serious and disturbing issues within the industry. Rather, this article seeks to highlight the inconsistencies that present themselves as far as GRNSW is concerned.

The decision to leave the greyhounds at Azzopardi’s property puzzled many to start with however, if GRNSW made this judgment in the beginning when he was originally suspended, then why have they suddenly changed their position and perspective now after all this time?

Is it just that they realised that they made the wrong decision? Or is it a bid to save themselves from recent criticism that the industry does not take integrity and positive swabs seriously enough?

Whatever the reason it leaves a lot to be desired from GRNSW; an organisation that should be encouraging an open and trusting relationship with participants. Instead, the greyhound racing rules implemented by GRNSW in cases such as this one have left people scratching their heads and unsure about their rights and responsibilities as industry participants.

It is time GRNSW establish a firm set of rules, implemented transparently and consistently, and not interpreted on an ad hoc basis from inquiry to inquiry. If for some reason GRNSW find themselves unable to implement their rules as expected by their own participants, then an attempt to explain and inform the public of their position when an exception has been granted or an agreement made would be more practical than leaving participants to come to their to own conclusions.

A number of efforts were made to contact GRNSW Chief Steward Bill Fanning via email and phone for his comment regarding this latest issue, however no response was forthcoming.

Katherine Ernst

About Katherine Ernst (All Articles)

Katherine is a born and bred greyhound racing enthusiast from the Hunter Valley NSW. Growing up with greyhounds, she has an appreciation for all aspects of greyhound racing from breeding and rearing to training and retirement. Katherine has worked in many positions within the media industry, including as greyhound racing columnist for both the Maitland Mercury and the Greyhound Recorder and as a Producer for Sky Racing.