Bentley drives for national approach

THE rise of "Baghdad" Bob Bentley to chairman of the Australian Racing Board was the best news to come out of a week that promises to lead to massive and, in most instances, necessary change to the industry. Bentley was the prime mover in the coming unification of Brisbane’s "Gaza Strip", the Queensland Turf Club and Brisbane Turf Club. Under his guidance Queensland racing is much better run than that of NSW. Saturday race fields are one example. "If Australian racing can become truly national in every sense then we can succeed," Bentley commented. "That includes calendar dates, programming rules, handicapping, stewards and every other aspect." Being a mover and shaker, Bentley has critics. Gaza is one achievement but he’ll find nationalising other states, particularly Victoria, more like Afghanistan.

POTENTIAL WON’T PAY: Racing, like life, is about compromise, thus the sharing of Easter Saturday between Randwick and Rosehill over the next four years is acceptable. Yes, Rosehill on Easter Saturday just won’t be the same as Randwick but the Australian Jockey Club didn’t put up a strong enough argument to retain it. Events NSW was a major player in the switch, and has the "potential to provide a promotional package of up to $10 million over four years". Potential? Government-department "potential" is about as useful as a tinker’s curse, although more valuable than a politician’s promise. Remember the link jackpots from poker machines that were supposed to come to racing when the TAB was privatised?

NO GO FOR JOE: Obviously conflict of interest didn’t come into play for the selection of the new Racing NSW board. For instance, Arthur Inglis is a major player behind the bloodstock company William Inglis & Son. No concern at all from this quarter, however. He comes with the right pedigree being closely related to old John, one of the true gentlemen of the turf, and Reg, who made a major contribution to the industry when an AJC committeeman. My only query with the new line-up is Ken Brown, AM, a renowned good bloke. He comes from the office of gaming and racing at a time when the industry has fallen into decline like never before. Kim Harding and Alan Brown were shoo-ins and the form of Alan Bell reads well: veterinarian, connected with Paul Sutherland in his best seasons, trainer, owner and breeder. Bell could well give a voice to the bush despite long ago leaving behind his RM Williams gear for some of the best tailoring seen outside of Milan. However, one disappointing aspect is that Joseph Crepaldi, a specialist in corporate and business strategy, who the previous selectors felt was the No.1 choice, didn’t bother to stand. Good judges reckon he had much to offer.

FAIR CRACK: Wonder whether those who backed Testimonial in the last at Rosehill on Saturday would have preferred Josh Parr had his whip over the latter stages? Parr dropped it at the 200m and went down by a half-length. Changes to whip rules coming up are an over-reaction. Surely thoroughbreds, the most pampered athletes, human or equine, are entitled to be given some encouragement. Rules are already in place to discourage flogging. "I’ve been examining horses over decades, going back before Mick Dittman was at his peak, and have only had to treat a horse once due to whip abuse," one of Sydney’s best known vets related on Saturday. "It was caused by a lady jockey."

Dittman was effective and never marked even the thinnest-skinned horse. To modify his style would have been an impertinence.

BOLGER BLUSTER: "The way Aidan [O’Brien] was treated down there was disgusting," Jim Bolger, the Irish trainer and blow-hard, told The Sunday Age . "There are a lot of people who should feel ashamed."

Of course, the 90-minute grilling that poor O’Brien had to endure over the appalling performances of his three horses in the Melbourne Cup because of dumb riding tactics brought the Bolger retort: "I suppose that’s what happens when you get professional stewards. People just have to justify their positions."

The long inquiry, however, was down to O’Brien. He wouldn’t shut up.

HORSE TO FOLLOW: Light Fantastic has returned to the Caulfield stable of Mick Price after being pre-trained at Rockmount in the Strathbogie Ranges north-east of Melbourne. Hopefully, he has recovered from stomach ulcers that plagued his form in the early spring.

DISAPPOINTING: John Messara , who has a superior knowledge of the problems of racing in this state, withdrew from the recently appointed Racing NSW board. Why?

Tiger chief says club is in dark over Cousins cash offer

RICHMOND president Gary March says the Tigers have not had any talks about a sponsorship offer that is conditional on the club reviving the AFL career of Ben Cousins.

It was reported yesterday that wealthy Melbourne restaurateur Frank Dimattina, who played for the club in the 1960s, had committed to giving Richmond up to $300,000 if it recruited the 30-year-old in tomorrow’s pre-season draft.

But March said he and the club’s directors "haven’t heard anything" about the apparent offer to bankroll the addition of Cousins, the 2005 Brownlow medallist, to its playing list.

"We haven’t spoken to anyone from the Dimattinas," he said yesterday.

Opposition from sponsors about the recruitment of Cousins, a recovering drug addict, has been cited as a factor in why at least two other AFL clubs, St Kilda and the Brisbane Lions, abandoned plans to draft him.

March would not say whether the opposite scenario — a sponsor lobbying for the recruitment of a specific player — could influence the club’s recruitment strategy.

"We’re talking all hypotheticals with this whole situation," he said. "As I said on Friday we’re waiting for the outcome of the decision from the (AFL) commission, so we’ve really got nothing more to say until they make their decision."

The AFL Commission will decide today whether to allow Richmond to shift tram accident victim Graham Polak onto its rookie list for next season, even though he does not fall within the list’s eligibility criteria.

Cousins’ potential recruitment hinges on Richmond receiving approval, which would allow the club to select two players, instead of one, in the pre-season draft.

"We’ve already publicly stated that we’re taking a young player with our first pick," March said.

"That decision’s already been made — I’m not sure how many more times we need to say it."

The AFL last week wrote to all clubs to gauge their views on Richmond’s request, which the Tigers justified on the basis Polak was "still undertaking extensive rehabilitation after suffering an acquired brain injury". Fremantle and Collingwood have expressed opposition to the request.

■ If the first-round pre-season cup match between West Coast and Collingwood in Cape Town is scrapped because of the global financial crisis, the game will be played in Melbourne or Perth on February 7.

The AFL is speaking to several companies to muster financial support to save the Cape Town match after sponsor NAB said at the weekend that it had abandoned plans to host hospitality packages.

Beadman gives Cat a kick

FORMER Sydney dominator and now Hong Kong hero Darren Beadman upstaged Australian sprinter of the year Apache Cat when scoring a knockout win in yesterday’s $HK12 million ($2.36m) HK Sprint at Sha Tin.

While odds-on favourite Apache Cat, ridden by Corey Brown and trained by Victoria-based Greg Eurell, rallied late to run a close-up third, it was left to Beadman and Hong Kong’s leading trainer John Moore, also an Australian, to win the sprint with Inspiration.

An outsider at $67, Inspiration was only included in the sprint late by Moore, who quipped: "I only put him in here for the run. But today Darren’s given him the best ride of the century and he’s pulled it off."

Apache Cat ($1.90) bounced into the box seat trailing the speed early and Brown eased him around into the clear on straightening.

"I had to change course when the winner came across me but he [Apache Cat] was going through that flat spot he always has at the time," Brown said of the half-length defeat. "There was a bit of interference caused but I don’t think it cost me the race.

"I thought he ran very well and he had every chance."

Eurell said the only disappointment he had was that Apache Cat "had to get rolling again" when Inspiration and eventual runner-up Green Birdie were hitting the line full of momentum. "With a clear run it would have been a bit more interesting," Eurell said.

The trainer said the fact Apache Cat was taking time to "work through his gears" might indicate "he could have been looking for 1400m". "By the time he’d hit his top the others had already hit theirs," he said. "But the way he blended into the run he still had every opportunity to win."

Beadman said he was happy and "smoking my pipe" when tracking Apache Cat into the race and when he was travelling so easily nearing the turn he thought an upset was on the cards. "I didn’t think he’d sprint as good as he did but once I peeled off the back of Apache Cat he let down really well," Beadman said.

"He kept going strongly and he’s a deserving winner. I knew I was on a horse that was fit and well. John has kept him very fresh and couldn’t have had him any better."

Beadman is the retained rider in Hong Kong for Moore with the pair enjoying a fantastic season in which Moore is the runaway premiership leader and Beadman is second in the jockeys’ standings behind South African Douglas Whyte. "I wasn’t expecting this, I can assure you," Moore said of Inspiration’s victory.

Apache Cat will head home to Victoria in the coming weeks but Eurell said that given his showing in Hong Kong more international sojourns were likely. "The way he has handled this trip I will seriously have to look at others with him now," Eurell said. "There are a couple of nice sprints back home for him in the autumn but all going well we will look at Singapore [KrisFlyer Sprint] and then Royal Ascot [King’s Stand Stakes and Golden Jubilee] with him."

Former world champion sprinter Takeover Target, which defeated Apache Cat in the Winterbottom Stakes in Perth two weeks ago before winning the Scahill Stakes there at the weekend, has enjoyed previous success both in Singapore and Royal Ascot in the UK, as well as Japan.

Apache Cat had won five straight group 1 races last season which ensured he won the Australian sprinter-of-the-year award but when he resumed in the Patinack Farm Classic at Flemington during the Melbourne Cup carnival he ran the worst race of his career when unplaced behind Swick.

"The main thing is we have got him back from that unexplained performance," Eurell said. "I drove home after that Flemington run and certainly didn’t think I’d be standing here today in Hong Kong with him. While he hasn’t won he has still run extremely well and I’m very proud of the horse."

Munce gets the monkey off his back with winning double

COMEBACK jockey Chris Munce has returned to the winner’s circle just days after resuming his racing career following 20 months in prison.

The Melbourne Cup-, Golden Slipper- and Cox Plate-winning jockey scored a winning double at yesterday’s Hawkesbury meeting.

Munce fronted at Hawkesbury for four rides, and after finishing second on Shrewd Princess in the opening event, steered the Mitchell Hudson-trained Swiftus home to a comfortable victory in the second. Munce later scored on trainer Steve Englebrecht’s galloper War Council.

"It was terrific," Munce said, revealing wife Cathy and their three children were at the track. "The crowd was fantastic when I came back in. They cheered, clapped, carried on."

Munce, who has picked up the ride on form galloper Something Anything in Saturday’s Villiers Stakes at Randwick, is more than happy with his return, which started at Randwick last Friday with three rides.

At Rosehill on Saturday, he had five rides, finishing third on Lioncub and second on Talaana, prompting the jockey to lodge a protest against the winner Jimmy Fortunes, which stewards dismissed quickly.

"I’m giving my horses every chance, and the more I ride, the better I’ll be. It’ll come with time," Munce said. "I’ve ridden for three days in a row. I’ve pulled up great each time, and each ride I’m getting better. It is just finetuning; you’ve always got to finetune your performance.

"If I was coming back from injury, wasting hard, holding back, it would take longer but because I’m fit and well it’ll come quicker."

Munce has a busy schedule this week with trials at Hawkesbury this morning, Randwick tomorrow, Wyong races on Wednesday, Canterbury on Thursday night, trials again at Randwick on Friday before fronting up for the Villiers meeting on Saturday. "Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’ve just got to keep my performance up to scratch," Munce said.

Last year, he was sentenced to 30 months in jail for his part in Hong Kong’s "tips for bets" bribery scandal. The term was reduced to 20 months due to good behaviour with Munce serving the first seven months in a Hong Kong prison and the remainder at Sydney’s Silverwater jail.

Munce’s return to the saddle continues to be surrounded by controversy due to the Hong Kong Jockey Club stewards charging him with 36 breaches of the rules a fortnight ago. He pleaded guilty and did not appeal, with HKJC stewards disqualifying him until September next year.

Two days after the HKJC decision, Munce fronted a show cause hearing at the offices of Racing NSW and was granted a licence to ride in this state. The decision enraged the HKJC, which continues to rant and rave about Racing NSW ostracising itself due to failing to uphold reciprocal agreements on penalties.

Takeover Target’s stay in Perth is over, with trainer Joe Janiak ordering a spell for the remarkable sprinter. The veteran galloper toyed with rivals to win the Scahill Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, a fortnight after defeating Apache Cat in the Winterbottom Stakes.

Perth stewards reported afterwards that Takeover Target had pulled up slightly lame in the near foreleg.

Rough ride in cup takes off the gloss

WHAT threatened to be one of the best days of champion jockey Darren Beadman’s career turned into disaster at Sha Tin when hot favourite Viva Pataca was beaten out of a place in the $HK20 million ($3.93m) Hong Kong Cup.

Beadman was shooting for a treble for Australian trainer John Moore having had earlier wins on stablemates Inspiration in the $HK12m Hong Kong Sprint and Craig’s Dragon (Paris Handicap). Viva Pataca started at $1.30 on the Hong Kong tote but failed to get any clear running until late in the straight, being continually checked from before turning for home, and finishing fourth. "I got absolutely smashed," Beadman said. "But what can you do, you can’t go over the top of them."

Leading jockey Douglas Whyte, who rode Sight Winner in the event, said it was "the dirtiest race I’ve ever ridden in" while Australian Brett Prebble, who was on Hawkes Bay, was also scathing in his comments.

"It was the worst race I’ve ever ridden in," said Prebble, referring to the interference. "It made the Golden Slipper [which has been known to be rough] look like a picnic race."

Beadman attempted to track eventual winner Eagle Mountain into the race approaching the turn and when that manoeuvre failed to come off Viva Pataca’s chances were dashed. HKJC stewards opened an inquiry into the interference, with visiting jockey Christophe Soumillon questioned over his ride on Bullish Luck, which was racing outside Viva Pataca when Beadman initially attempted to track Eagle Mountain. Eagle Mountain has a South African combination of trainer Mike De Kock and jockey Kevin Shea while it is owned by Sheik Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.

Shea said he was aware it was "a rough race", adding: "There was interference in front of me and behind me. I could hear the other jockeys screaming out. I just made sure I stayed out of trouble and then I set him alight with 300m to go and he found another gear. He is a special horse."

De Kock won the Sheema Classic in Dubai earlier this year with Sun Classique, while he also brought Archipenko to Hong Kong in April to win the QEII Cup in which Viva Pataca ran third. "We thought Eagle Mountain was going even better than Sun Classique and Archipenko were before they won their big races so we were confident," De Kock said.

Beadman and Moore also combined for a second with Able One in the Hong Kong Mile, won for the second year running by Good Ba Ba. The jockey also rode the Danny O’Brien-trained Victorian Douro Valley into ninth in the Hong Kong Vase, in which Doctor Dino edged out 2007 Melbourne Cup runner-up Purple Moon.