DAMIEN Oliver has risen to great heights before when burdened with a heavy heart. Yesterday it was his reputation that was ailing, and again he climbed into the saddle.
And, at least for a few precious moments, he blew the dark clouds away. A decade after riding Media Puzzle to victory in the Melbourne Cup while mourning the brother he had lost days earlier, Oliver is at the centre of betting allegations that have cast a pall over the spring carnival, and could jeopardise his great career.
His win in the Thousand Guineas at Caulfield was one for the believers, even if the biggest test may be yet to come.
”Everyone has tough times in their life, it’s how you respond to those tough times that counts,” Oliver said after steering Commanding Jewel to an easy win, his fifth in the group 1 race.
He said the support shown by the filly’s trainer, Leon Corstens, and chief owner, Brad Spicer, was ”overwhelming”, a pointed contrast to those who have distanced themselves from him in recent days.
”Each to their own, so be it. It’s during tough times where you know the people who are really going to stick by you.”
Oliver’s latest tough times surfaced when The Sunday Age hit the streets last weekend, containing claims that he wagered $10,000 on the favourite, Miss Octopussy, to beat his own mount in a race at Moonee Valley in 2010.
A Racing Victoria investigation into this and allegations against other leading jockeys continues.
The saga has polarised the racing industry. Last night, Oliver and high-profile owner Terry Henderson exchanged heated words before the stewards after the jockey filed a claim for compensation over Henderson stripping him of the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup rides on My Quest For Peace.
Henderson agreed that he had given a ”firm” commitment to Oliver for the rides, but hinged his case on the jockey’s refusal to declare his innocence. Stewards will rule before Saturday’s Caulfield Cup.
Lloyd Williams also withdrew an offer for Oliver to ride Cox Plate hopeful Green Moon, and Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation has looked elsewhere, but others have painted Oliver as a victim and questioned the timing of the allegations.
”All this crap always seems to come out right when the spring carnival starts,” trainer Tony Vasil said yesterday, after Oliver rode his gelding The Wingman into sixth in his first of three rides for the day. ”I’ll be sticking with him.”
So is Corstens, who was moved to tears by Oliver’s win. The veteran trainer said he had ”been there before”, and knew what the jockey was going through, a reference to Corstens’ guilty findings for using banned substances on his horses.
Asked if he had misgivings over Oliver taking yesterday’s ride, Corstens said: ”He’s the best rider in Australia, so why would I have second thoughts?” The jockey put a comforting arm on the trainer’s back when Corstens welled up during the Thousand Guineas presentation.
Spicer reported that Oliver had rung on Sunday to assure Commanding Jewel’s owners.
He said he would not have switched to another jockey ”for anyone in the world”, echoing the conviction of other trainers and owners that the accused is innocent until proved guilty.
Oliver was composed and courteous after the race, his 95th group 1 triumph, explaining his knack for producing under pressure – which he reiterated to Henderson in front of the stewards – by saying he felt more comfortable on a horse than anywhere.
Veteran Sydney jockey Jim Cassidy, who is also implicated in the widespread investigation for allegedly receiving payments from a prominent underworld informer, pushed through the media surrounding his colleague and said: ”Good onya, Olly!”
The sentiment was shared by many in the crowd.
”Leon and Brad and all the other people who’ve stuck by us, I can’t thank them enough,” Oliver said.
He was relieved to be on a winner again, but knowing that this particular race is far from run.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.