In the biggest scandal to hit racing in years, Central Districts jockey David Walker had his licence withdrawn today and will face charges of pulling up a horse so he could collect from betting on a rival in the same race.
Walker, who has lost the mount on Scapolo, one of the favourites for the first leg of the Hastings Triple Crown on Saturday, the $200,000 Makfi Stakes, faces disqualification for up to life if found guilty as the act strikes at the very heart of the integrity of racing.
The affair is sure to focus the spotlight again on why jockeys are allowed to bet here at all when it is an offence in most other jurisdictions around the world.
And it will also bring into question the future of the TAB taking head-to-head betting on selected races, where odds are offered on one horse beating another home.
Walker, 38, is alleged to have deliberately ridden Watch Your Man to lose to rival St Ransom at Awapuni on August 16, because he wagered heavily on the other horse beating his mount home in a head-to-head special option offered by TAB bookmakers.
Stewards questioned Walker about his ride on the day after he first restrained Watch Your Man to the rear of the field, causing the horse to race ungenerously, then improved wide on the turn, giving him a couple of cursory strikes with the whip before running in behind horses up the straight, showing zero vigour and keeping his horse under a hold to the line.
The horse, who was a last-start winner in the same grade, beat only one home, and finished 2.7 lengths behind St Ransom who was under a heavy whip ride all the way up the home straight.
A veterinary examination of the Eddie Carson-trained Watch Your Man revealed nothing amiss and stewards adjourned their inquiry.
Subsequent investigations by the Racing Integrity Unit found Walker placed a cash bet, believed to be more than $500, on the head-to-head option – and , incredibly, he was later captured on CCTV collecting his winnings.
St Ransom closed at $1.80 but, while the price would have been slightly higher before Walker’s bet of several hundred dollars was placed, he still stood to barely double his money.
Walker is understood to have admitted to placing the bet but is sticking to the story he told stewards on the day that he was unable to do the horse justice because he had cramp in his hands, something he volunteered before the inquiry started.
But Walker will have some serious explaining to do given cases of jockeys cramping in their hands are almost non existent and, if it had happened, you would expect him to have relaxed his grip on the horse’s reins, if anything.
The Racing Integrity Unit has now begun investigating other rides by Walker but today served him with papers, charging him with a serious racing offence. It also sought from New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing the immediate withdrawal of his licence.
If found guilty under rule 801, which involves committing a dishonest and fraudulent act to do with racing or betting, he can be disqualified for any period, including life.
Walker was also charged with breaching rule 707, which relates to jockeys being able to back only the horses they ride.
RIU general manager Mike Godber said in view of the evidence collected and the seriousness of the charges, the RIU recommended to New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing that Walker’s licence be suspended immediately.
“The allegations before Mr Walker are serious and threaten the very fabric of thoroughbred racing.
“We therefore consider the continued participation of Mr Walker in racing prior to the JCA hearing would pose an unacceptable risk to the image, interests and integrity of racing,” Godber said.
The most high profile recent case of a jockey betting was in November, 2012 when champion Australian jockey Damien Oliver was banned for 10 months for backing a rival horse.
Oliver bet A$10,000 on the favourite and winner Miss Octopussy in a race at Moonee Valley, and rode the second favourite Europa Point into sixth place – but, unlike Walker’s case, there was no suggestion that he did not ride his horse on its merits.
The most recent breach here was in March, 2012, when southern jockey Shankar Muniandy was suspended for six weeks after being found to have twice bet paltry amonts on horses other than than the ones he was riding at Riccarton, one of which was a 120-to-one outsider with no chance.
Walker, who is in his 24th season of riding, has been a respected journeyman rider throughout his career and has recorded 872 wins, for stake earnings of more than $10.8 million.
He rode 40 winners last season and at times has featured much higher up the premiership ladder, kicking home 70 winners in 1993-94.
He has been associated with several of New Zealand’s pin-up gallopers from 1999 when he rode Cent Home to win the Kelt Stakes at Hastings.
He rode crack filly Legs to win the New Zealand Oaks in 2006, Porotene Gem to take the Levin Classic in 2006 and C’est La Guerre to bag the 2008 New Zealand Derby, one of many stars he has handled for Wanganui’s Kevin Myers, the latest last November’s Couplands Mile winner Scapolo.
His partnership with Myers dates back nearly 25 years when he started riding track work for the trainer as a schoolboy.
Walker’s father Jim was also a successful jockey.
The shocking revelations about Walker are expected to finally fuel a change to the rules on jockeys betting here. While riders in Australia are forbidden from betting on any horse races in the country, New Zealand authorities have repeatedly defended their rights to bet on horses they ride.
But for many years the RIU has lobbied against jockeys and drivers being able to bet – former RIU boss Cameron George tried for several years to change the rule but New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing rejected his pleas.
But earlier this year NZTR chief executive Greg Purcell said he hoped to introduce a ban this year on jockeys betting on all gallops races here.
With the increasing amount of revenue New Zealand received from international customers it was imperative that both the perception and reality of racing’s integrity was beyond reproach, he said.
An amended draft rule was circulated to industry bodies in April.
■ The rules for harness racing were tightened last March, prohibiting drivers from betting on races they compete in, HRNZ chief executive Edward Rennell declaring it was imperative that the public perception of racing was squeaky clean