In a surprise decision, Queensland stewards have let punters Steve and Matthew Brunker and Brady Canty off the hook following an investigation into the running of a maiden greyhound race at Ipswich last July. The Northern Territory Racing Commission (NTRC)) had already found they acted unlawfully by “rigging the results” when two dogs, temporarily in the care of trainer Stephen Kutnjak, finished 30-plus lengths behind the winner. One of those dogs, Finished Forcer, was an odds-on favourite and both were later suspended for failing to chase.
The dogs’ registered trainers were found guilty of exercising inadequate supervision and penalties will be decided later. Both were novice Sydney trainers who entrusted their dogs to another party for the trip to Ipswich. (Some might consider this a laborious and expensive way to chase down a maiden win).
Stewards were unable to prove to their satisfaction that there was any direct collusion between the three conspirators and Kutnjak, but did undertake to refer the matter to Racing Queensland boards and Greyhounds Australasia Ltd for a review of the current rules. (Since a major part of the exercise involves commercial activity – ie in betting – the latter organisation may not take an interest or be competent to handle it. GAL does not address commercial matters).
However, in sharp contrast to all that, the NTRC found “That Mr Kutnjak and Mr Matthew Brunker are associates is founded on the knowledge that Mr Kutnjak had previously trained greyhounds for Mr Matthew Brunker, and that both the greyhounds mentioned above were kennelled at City Bound Lodge” (which was owned by the Brunkers).
The NTRC then added, “In and of itself though, but for the wager, the Racing Commission would be hard pressed to conclude that nothing more than a form anomaly or statistical aberration had occurred. Up until this point the Commission is prepared to afford to the parties the benefit of the doubt. The placement of the wager, however, removes the hint of chance about the result and elevates it to the level of integrity breach and the Commission so finds”.
The NTRC is a formally constituted body with wide experience in licensing and with legal members so its view could hardly be disregarded. Surely, then, an “integrity breach” is something that stewards must address specifically and in great detail. After all, broadly, their job embraces reviewing two big items – betting transactions and performances.
Queensland stewards have been under fire in recent months. For example, a country trainer was outed for 10 years for racing his thoroughbred at an unregistered meeting – one which he mistakenly thought was OK. That has ruined his entire business and, indeed, his life. In another case, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal criticised stewards for an excessive penalty for a greyhound trainer, reducing the disqualification period from 12 to four months. The Tribunal said “this is by no means the first case considered by QCAT where, without sufficient explanation, the penalty imposed by stewards has been appreciably higher than the antecedents would suggest is either necessary or appropriate”.
In the Brunker case, evidence has been produced that:
- The conspirators placed Win bets of $1200 on Finished Forcer long before the start, thereby ensuring it would be a short priced favourite and encouraging casual punters to take a greater interest than normal.
- A complex arrangement was put in place to invest in a multi-combination $4,992 First Four bet with online bookmaker Bet365, but omitting the two suspect dogs, including Finished Forcer.
- The suspect dogs failed to chase and were found later to be unfit to race and were suspended. Evidence of over-feeding and vomit on the kennel floors was found to be inconclusive.
- There was an existing business relationship between the conspirators and trainer Kutnjak.
Coincidentally, the Tatts Trifecta pool on the race amounted to $8,676, only slightly short of the Win pool of $8,986. That relativity is virtually unheard of in racing anywhere as Trifecta pools are commonly only 20% to 30% the size of Win pools. This point was not mentioned in reports by NTRC or the stewards, so apparently it was not investigated. It should have been. Who would invest such large amounts on a maiden event with first starters, particularly on less predictable exotic combinations?
The imaginary Tatts First Four dividend of $14,632 (mentioned here in a previous article on June 19).attracted no comment from either NTRC or the stewards, even though, after the TAB takeout, only $3,658 of the $4,720 pool would have been available to pay out successful punters. Both Tatts and Tabcorp adopt this inflationary and misleading practice whenever only small or nil investments have been made. It also begs the question of whether the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would regard this as a deceptive practice – ie by encouraging future punters to look for windfall dividends which will never actually appear.
The stewards’ report failed to mention the likelihood of referring the case to the police, which is surprising considering the “unlawful” finding of the NTRC. Stewards have relied on their view of existing racing rules yet, even if you accept that, it may always be possible that the laws of the land might look at things differently. The NTRC implied that this was the case.
Of course, stewards also have some discretionary powers, given due process, to warn off perceived offenders from all racetracks. No such action was addressed in this case.
At the least, this episode amounts to a scam. However, it contrasts with other recent scams where the punter backed his judgement and manipulated the market while his non-favoured runners all had a chance of upsetting the applecart. But not this time, according to the NTRC, which has endorsed the age-old principle that both parties in a betting transaction should have a chance.
Such scamming is not illegal in itself unless it contravenes other laws. Still, online bookmakers have already taken steps – by altering their rules and conditions – to avoid liability when they perceive market irregularities to have occurred. Bet365 invoked those rules in this case. At the core, this is hardly a satisfactory situation for the consumer, inasmuch as the setting and the interpretation of those rules, as well as any settlement, is entirely in the hands of the bookie. Bet365 advises customers to study those rules and Brunker says he did so. TABs have no such limitations.
However, that aside, there are enough queries left unanswered that the public would surely expect stewards to carry out more thorough investigations. That public would also include everyone who invested on the subject race itself, including on the unfit runners, with little or no hope of winning.
Finally, the fact that this case has taken 11 months to get to this point is unsatisfactory. Even then, much of the detail emerged only because the conspirators themselves complained to the NTRC, seeking payment from Bet 365. That claim was denied.
We have sought further clarification of this matter from NTRC, Bet365 and Queensland stewards. The NTRC has acknowledged our inquiry but have not commented yet, while the others have failed to respond at all.