In a bizzare aftermath to the story we ran last month with regard to leading trainer David Schofield and his handler Willie Hodgson and their run in with greyhound officialdom and the law; Police have now had to be called to two greyhound meetings last week after threats were made to kill a trainer's pregnant partner and others.
New Zealand's Sunday Star Times Racing Editor Barry Lichter has reported that "in scenes described by one frightened bystander as akin to a gangster movie, threats to break bones and "chop your f---ing head off" were made".
At the the heart of the sensational scenes are allegations of accusations that dogs are being drugged, and an increase in competition for the higher prizemoney on offer after the country's leading trainer, John McInerney of Christchurch, set up a satellite kennel in Palmerston North run by his son Stephen. The fallout has left officials struggling to maintain order in the code.
Lichter reports that "Police were called to Manawatu Raceway last Monday and Wanganui's Hatrick Raceway two nights later as friction in the Central Districts escalated".
"Greyhound Racing New Zealand board chairman Trevor Deed was forced to step in last Thursday with a special action plan to curtail the bad behaviour, which has dogged the code for the past 12 months. But the same night in Auckland a trainer was in tears at Manukau Stadium after another trainer yelled over the fence that he had a rifle pointed between their eyes".
These scenes follow earlier incidents where :
- Leading North Island trainer David Schofield was warned off racetracks after a fiery night at Wanganui in May when he had a number of run-ins with officials. He was last week found guilty of misconduct and faces a lengthy disqualification.
- Schofield's handler, Willie Hodgson, was disqualified for nine months for sending a raft of threatening texts after a tip-off saw police stop them on their way home from Wanganui, search their car for drugs and breath-test them.
- Central District's top three trainers have butted heads repeatedly - Deed revealed Stephen McInerney was facing a misconduct charge and Schofield another over abusing fellow trainer Brendon Cole.
- Auckland club president Geoff Farrell was disqualified and charged with assault after knocking trainer Steve Mann into a flower bed in an incident last October, jumping on top of him and unleashing blows to his head.
Manawatu Greyhound Racing Club secretary Ashoka Pandey said he was horrified at Monday's incident and said he had no hesitation in calling the police because public safety was at risk. Pandey said handler Jake Woolston-Bell and Stephen McInerney's partner Stacey Nissen were visibly shaken by the threats. Nissen, four-and-a-half months pregnant, was distressed.
Nissen told the Lichter she was too frightened to go back to the track and no longer felt safe in her own home after the two men threatened her life and her family. The men had turned on her after she spotted them behaving menacingly towards Woolston-Bell.
A bystander, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, heard the heavies yelling: "We'll chop your f---ing head off." Woolston-Bell said the men threatened to "break my kneecaps and all the bones in my body".
The heavies were ordered to leave the course by stipendiary steward Gavin Whiterod, but Nissen said yesterday she intended pressing charges. Kim Perks, communication manager for the Central police district, said no arrests had been made yet but police were following a strong line of inquiry.
Woolston-Bell said he planned to lay a formal complaint with the greyhound association after Wednesday's incident when he alleged he and McInerney were abused by one owner. Wanganui police confirmed they attended the incident, and several people were spoken to, but no further action was likely.
Woolston-Bell was himself disqualified earlier this year for three months for abusing a steward, after two of their dogs broke legs because of what he called disgraceful track conditions.
Deed said the association took the two latest incidents seriously. "It is totally unacceptable."
Deed said some people were "behaving like idiots" and "we're going to put a stop to it". He believed it was common sense that along with the vastly higher stakes now available in greyhound racing would come increased rivalry among trainers.
There were also a number of contentious issues in the industry that people were clashing over, the key ones being alleged steroid use by some trainers and dissatisfaction over the inconsistency of the judicial process. Concerned stipendiary stewards from around the country will meet in Wellington today to discuss ways to combat the continued bad behaviour.
And Australian greyhound racing is not immune from the recent increase in threats, abuse, physical altercations and drug use allegations seen in the recent New Zealand crisis. The past 18 months has seen a dramatic increase in instances of misconduct seen on Australian greyhound tracks.
Stewards in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have been forced in to inquiry over several cases of physical violence and bad behaviour including :
- The 2008 Melbourne Cup fiasco which saw leading trainers openly abusing trainers and officials
- A physical altercation between leading trainers Jason Thompson and Darren McDonald
- A physical altercation between leading trainers Jason Thompson and Brian Selleck
- Greyhound trainers abusing others trainers
- Trainers abusing trainee stewards
- Greyhound connections verbally swearing and abusing stewards
- Rising instances of misconduct and poor behaviour on track by trainers
- Verbal altercations between trainers and Stewards
- Licensed persons abusing club officials and others at offical trial sessions
- Club officials embroiled in missing swab controversies
- Trainers abusing state regulatory authority staff by email
- Allegations of field manipulation
- Media personalities and club stewards being involved in physical altercations
- Trainers being involved with physical and verbal altercations with their own owners
- Further instances of greyhound trainers swearing at stewards
- Greyhound trainers again being involved in altercations with licensed persons
- And a series of 'incidents' in Queensland that may have seen someone doing, saying, not doing or not saying something to someone at Greyhound Racing tracks
And this increase in violence and misconduct comes at a time when greyhound authorities finally recognise that current drug detection procedures and analysis have been inadequately behind the times, and the recent EPO positive swabs in the Thoroughbred and Harness Racing industries threaten to spill over in to the Greyhound Racing world as rumours abound that one of the leading suppliers of EPO and Aranesp has "rolled over" and given authorities the list of names supplied to.
At the same time Greyhound Racing Victoria have sought to avoid public scrutiny of their own stewards inquiries by not supplying Australian Racing Greyhound with recent GRV Stewards Inquiry reports, including one involving a full time trainer and "live rabbits" and another involving a positive swab returned in a greyhound that was being trained by someone other than its registered trainer.
Greyhound Racing Victoria is also one of the few state authorities that deliberately do not publish Stewards Inquiry results or appeals on their own website. At what price do we put marketing concerns above those of racing integrity and transparency?
According to Greyhound Racing Victoria's Integrity and Racing Services Manager, Dr Brian Williams, "Greyhound Racing Victoria has recently reviewed its distribution lists for all media releases. As a consequence of this review 'Australian Racing Greyhound' no longer forms part of this list."
It is our understanding that this decision has been conveyed to us in writing and you will hear more about it once we are in receipt of that communication.
At a time when greyhound racing is crying out for a state authority to stand tall and be totally open, honest and transparent for the sake of the industry and its credibility, we now find even one of our supposed leading authorities seeking to hide from the public eye and avoid having the worst of their industry behaviour exposed in the stark reality of the broad daylight.
That sort of behaviour does nothing to inspire confidence either in the industry or its leadership and fosters perceptions that are not conducive and consistent with a level playing field.