What’s happened to harness racing, and why does it keep happening?

Tristan Rayner Editor

By , Tristan Rayner is a Roar Editor

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    Harness racing is missing a golden opportunity to establish itself. (Wiki Commons: MagicFlute1983)

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    Harness racing once rivalled the thoroughbreds for crowds and interest. Now it’s reduced to being shown on split screens on Sky 2 while blokes in the pub joke about ‘crims on rims’ and ‘cheats on seats’. What’s happened to harness?

    I’m fortunate to have one good friend who follows harness racing across Australia very closely.

    He’s taught me a huge amount about gate speed, last halves, handing up, horses that can work, horses that need soft runs, and so on. Barrier draws matter a huge amount.

    Then there’s the mysterious side of the sport. Horses that improve out of sight. Horses that have gate speed and don’t lead. Strange drives. Multiple stablemates in a race may run races for each other. Stewards that are told of tactic changes but the public aren’t informed in a timely manner. Trainers suggesting certain horses are their best bet for the night and do nothing. Favourites blowing out late. Wild fluctuations.

    Various stings have reduced trainers and drivers – often one and the same – to onlookers, but the game is never up. One famous sting from six years ago came around when a young NSW steward was noticed to have started wearing Armani suits and was regularly betting thousands at Star Casino.

    The problem for the sport isn’t that no one’s being caught, it’s that there are almost too many incidents to note.

    Last Friday night, Gloucester Park races saw seven late scratchings when premiership trainer and significant owner Greg Bond was given a 12-month disqualification, for “giving stewards false information and behaviour detrimental to the industry”.

    The short version of what happened is that Bond was told by his trackwork driver, Ryan Warwick, that a recent New Zealand import, Fifth Edition, wasn’t going well and cross-firing – making contact.

    Bond told TABradio programme that the horse was the stable’s best of the night.

    Bond put a first-four on the race and a quadrella on the meet that did not include his horse. Fifth Edition finished last, never travelled, and was gone well before the home turn. Bond told stewards his bet did include his horse.

    Bond is a heavyweight of the Western Australia industry, along with his partner Skye Bond, and various appeals and stays are underway at the time of writing.

    Also in WA, pacer Soho Wall Street was alleged to have returned a positive post-race urine sample for Dexamethasone after winning Race 6 at Gloucester Park on Friday, 16 June 2017. An inquiry is underway into the circumstances.

    It goes on. In late 2016 and earlier this year, multiple prominent harness racing participants in Victoria, including Nathan Jack and Amanda Turnbull, had their licenses suspended for alleged race fixing.

    The infamous disgrace of Lochinvar Hugo played out in April earlier this year which you can watch here, with the favourite given absolutely no chance. Driver David Moran was found guilty and given a five-week disqualification, and was separately fined for nominating an injured horse at the same meeting.

    One of the most interesting cases involves Shayne Cramp, who was disqualified for 12 years for race fixing, where he arranged a first-second-third result. Cramp won the race with his father, Greg Cramp, driving the second horse. The younger Cramp directly profited from a trifecta bet and talked about it with his mates and connections.

    The reason for the interest is that in a VCAT appeal, which you can read here, all kinds of evidence comes to light. It’s unsophisticated, but it’s alarming.

    Take Shayne Cramp discussing with some amusement how the fix will come about with prominent WA harness driver, Gary Hall Jr, with full transcripts of calls published. It’s not flattering for Hall Jr or Cramp.

    Watching the race, it’s amazing to see how it plays out, knowing what we know now. Watch here – it nearly all went wrong with Greg Cramp’s horse galloping for a short time early on, but it all fell into place in the end – 1, 2, 3.

    Elder and junior Cramp admitted their guilt in court and cooperated with authorities and stewards. Appeals were lodged on the length of the ban, not disputing the events but the punishment. The appeals failed – the Cramps were given 12-year suspensions, which would have been more without cooperation.

    Shayne Cramp was also given 300 hours of unpaid community work, while Greg Cramp was given 200 hours by the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria.

    It actually reads as tough punishment for the pair, given the money made appeared to have been less than $1000 total on that race. But judges and VCAT members handed down these long suspensions to send a message and act as a deterrent to others.

    It ruined Shayne Cramp. He had 40 horses in training or in work, and was Mildura’s leading trainer. His marriage ended, with three young children, and he lost his home.

    A career in harness racing which started as a teenager ended completely. The penalty was severe, with the final ruling made on April 4, 2017. Little more than two weeks, on April 19, came the Lochinvar Hugo turn of events.

    Perhaps the message might never go through. Until it does, the ‘red hots’ will continue to go backwards.

    Tristan Rayner
    Tristan Rayner

    Tristan is a writer, consultant, racing enthusiast and former Editor of The Roar who has turned the Melbourne Cup into a year-round study via racingtalk.com.au.