Michael Walker was today served papers notifying him that he has been charged with a serious racing offence deemed “detrimental to racing” following comments he made on the television show Off the Rails three days after riding Puccini to victory in the New Zealand Derby.
Walker had gone into Derby day off a two-week layoff with a shoulder injury that was aggravated in his race five win on Rough Copy. Earlier in the programme he had stood down after being unable to make a 54.5kg weight and after riding Rough Copy at 57.5kg and Gold ’N Mac at the same weight in the next race, he relinquished the mount on Manny in the race before the Derby, telling stewards that he could not make that horse’s 55.5kg.
At the same time, Walker had undergone therapy from raceday doctor Margaret Parle after his difficult ride on Rough Copy, which had caused muscle spasms in his upper back. After recovering for an inspired ride to victory on Puccini in the Derby, Walker forfeited his 55.5kg mount in the remaining race on the programme.
Three days later Walker was a guest on the one-off Australian Sky TV programme broadcast from Ellerslie racecourse and fronted by Greg Radley and former jockey Malcolm “Miracle” Johnston. Questioned about the injury he suffered leading up to the Derby, Walker stated the following: “It was the most painful thing I’ve been though in my life. I feel for females that go through labour.
“It was like three or four races later the doctor asked the stewards if I could stand down from my next ride and take a couple of rides off. The stewards said no, if he gets off that he has to get off everything.
“I wasn’t let that happening, so maybe me being a little bit smart as yourself Miracle, I just said I can’t make the weight on the next one. So I was able to take a couple of races off and pull myself together for the Derby.”
The Racing Integrity Unit has reacted to Walker’s comments by bringing a charge under the serious racing offence criteria, in this case Rule 801 s) (ii), which states: ‘A person commits a Serious Racing Offence within the meaning of these Rules who at any time writes or causes to be written, publishes or causes to be published, or utters or causes to be uttered, any insulting or abusive words with reference to a Tribunal, NZTR, Committee of a Club or a member or Official of any such body or a Stipendiary Steward or Investigator, or Registered Medical Practitioner’.
The charge carries penalties ranging from lifetime disqualification, up to 12 months’ suspension or a fine up to $50,000.
“Michael Walker was served the papers by email and courier today,” said Racing Integrity Unit co-chief steward Ross Neal. “Stewards have serious concerns about comments made by him in the Off the Rails broadcast.”
With the papers having been served, it is now up to the Judicial Control Authority to set a date to hear the charge. Amongst those anxious to see a resolution is senior co- trainer Peter McKay, who is keen for Walker to continue an association with Puccini that has already produced a perfect three from three result in the Waikato and Avondale Guineas and New Zealand Derby.