Leading New Zealand trainer David Schofield has been warned off all racecourses and faces disqualification on a number of charges including misconduct.
And, if the result of an associated hearing against one of Schofield’s handlers is any guide, the North Island’s most successful trainer could be looking at a lengthy ban.
At a hearing in Auckland last week, Schofield’s handler, former Central Districts trainer Willie Hodgson, was disqualified for nine months on a misconduct charge.
Hodgson was found to have sent abusive and threatening text messages to a raft of people after a middle-of-the-night incident when he and Schofield were stopped by police on the way home from a Wanganui race meeting on May 22.
The pair was stopped between Wanganui and Marton, breath-tested and their car searched for drugs, after what Hodgson claimed was a malicious tip-off.
While nothing was found, in the following days Hodgson sent strongly-worded text messages to three greyhound officials, a trainer and an owner, in a witch-hunt which the New Zealand Greyhound Association argued was both threatening and offensive.
Earlier in the night, Schofield had a number of run-ins with officials and, at a hearing on June 26, faced a charge of general misconduct, for using offensive language to a steward, failing to obey the instructions of a steward, and failing to present a dog for swabbing in the required time.
Chairman Ian Smith has yet to release his decision on those charges, but Schofield now faces yet another misconduct charge after an altercation with another trainer, whom he allegedly abused during a race meeting held after the inquiry.
The trouble at the May meeting started when stipe Gavin Whiterod ordered Schofield to present his dog Bullish Megastar for swabbing after he ran second in the seventh race, the $25,000 NZ Futurity Final.
Despite being called for testing at 9.40pm, and no arrangements being made by Schofield to the contrary, Bullish Megastar was not swabbed until 10.25pm, after the final race.
But Schofield made a worse error when he abused assistant stipe Michael Austin after the eighth race, when his dog She’s Too Cool was being vetted after running a poor last.
Standard practice for punter protection after the failure of a well-supported runner, Whiterod wanted to find out if there was any reason for the dog fading from the front before the back straight and finishing last.
The hearing was told Schofield made offensive comments to Austin while the dog was being vetted, saying there was nothing wrong with the animal, and they were wasting his time. He claimed the dog had suffered interference.
When Whiterod heard of the abuse, he called Schofield to the stewards’ room, where he also planned to show the trainer a replay of the race to show no interference had occurred.
Schofield did not respond and, even after Whiterod confronted him when he was leading one of his three dogs on to the track for the ninth race, repeating his summons, the trainer again ignored it.
Schofield had still not appeared when Whiterod turned off the lights of his room after the end of the meeting. When he went to the kennels he found Bullish Megastar finally being swabbed, but no sign of Schofield, whom he sought out and found in a bar area at the other end of the track.
Schofield explained he had been too busy and didn’t have the time to answer Whiterod’s call, an explanation the steward did not accept as everyone else somehow managed to follow the rules and a degree of flexibility was given.
Under the association’s rules, Schofield can continue to train, but cannot set foot on a racecourse again until the decision is released, when it can review the warning-off, or extend it. He could be fined up to $10,000 or even just suspended, but given the declared stance of the New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association, which is cracking down on bad behaviour among its licence holders, a disqualification is much more likely, and would be in sync with other recent cases.
Board chairman Trevor Deed said all licenceholders were aware the board was determined to enforce an appropriate standard of behaviour.
On several occasions in the last 12 months the association had spelled out in its industry magazine the need for professionalism.
Deed said racegoers needed to know they could go to the track for some fun and not be confronted by slanging matches.
If disqualified, Schofield will not be able to have anything to do with his busy kennels.
Fifty-three dogs have contributed to the 289 races which the Schofield kennel has won this season, their stake earnings of $711,106 just short of leading trainer John McInerney (400 wins).
Story courtesy of Barry Lichter, Sunday Star Times