02 August 2016
A well-bred 2-year-old maiden galloper of ordinary ability named Polemics – owned and raced by the world’s largest private owner Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al MaktoumSheik global in full work at Godolphin’s NSW stables being prepared for a return to racing by Godolphin’s highly-paid Australia head trainer John O’Shea who has concerns about the young gelding’s progress.
An examination of the horse is conducted by junior Godolphin veterinarian Dr Graeme Adams, who discovers that Polemic appears to have abnormal swelling in the lower floor of the horse’s mouth, and at the upper end of its throat.
Dr Adams takes a swab from the area of the swelling – the submandibular gland – and sends it immediately to Vetnostics, a leading equine laboratory owned and operated by leading Australian pathology provider QML.
4 August 2016
At 10.16 am Vetnostics sends an email to a group of senior Godolphin Australia employees including Adams, his fellow Godolphin vet and boss Dr Trevor Robson, and head trainer John O’Shea advising that interim tests results show that Polemic has tested positive for the highly contagious beta-haem Streptococcus virus.
Adams the vet telephones his boss Dr Robson. His call goes to voicemail.
Robson phones him back 6 minutes later and the pair speak on the phone for almost 8 minutes.
At 1.46pm Vetsonics sends a further email to the same group including Adams, Robson and O’Shea advising that further interim testing reveals that Polemic is infected with the Strangles virus.
Within 10 minutes of receiving the email Adams phones Robson again, and again his call goes to voicemail.
Robson calls him back 13 minutes later and the pair speak for almost 17 minutes.
After ending the call Godolphin’s senior Australian vet Dr Robson abandons what he is doing and drives directly to the Crown Lodge Stables at the Warwick Farm racecourse. He parks his car, locates head trainer O’Shea and bails him up and the pair hold an urgent discussion about test results revealing that one one of the horses in their stable has tested positive to the highly-contagious Strangles virus.
Robson does not need to explain the seriousness of the problem. Although the virus has yet to strangle the thoroughbred industry, horse folk world-wild are aware of the disease and its potential consequences following a series of outbreak among equines in Australia and abroad in recent years. It is the human equivalent of swine flue or SARS, and both men know it.
O’Shea, knowing that his stables will be shut down and his horses barred from racing for at least 2 months if the authorities become aware of Polemic’s positive test, tells the Godolphin head vet Robson that he “doesn’t want to tell the stewards”.
He doesn’t need to tell the vet why. They both know.
If the stewards are informed then none of their horses will be able to compete during the Melbourne Spring Carnival, and the Godolphin stable will be left without a starter in prestigious stakes-rich races such as the VRC Derby and Oaks, the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate and the big one itself, the race that stops the nation, the Melbourne Cup.
O’Shea knows that it is one of the Sheik’s lifetime goals to win The Cup.
It is number one on his employer’s bucket list.
And having worked out that trying to beat Winx is akin to asking the toughest kid on your housing commission to give you a hiding for nothing, and having reshaped his best horse Harnell’s training regime and spring carnival program, O’Shea reckons that he has a huge chance in the Big One on the first Tuesday in November.
Robson became a vet because he cared about animals, and wanted to protect their health and welfare. He does not want to sacrifice many for just the one. The men argue.
O’Shea repeats that he does not want to tell the stewards.
Robson – unwittingly providing us a rare insight into the structure and hierarchy of the Godolphin that suggests that the top vet is higher up in the Godolphin chain of command than the head trainer- tells O’Shea that it’s not his (the trainer’s call), and that he (the vet) will need to speak to people higher up than him in the company to see if the decision the trainer wants made will be approved.
The person higher up whose approval Robson is telling O’Shea he requires is Henry Plumptre (below centre) the long time manager of Godolphin’s Australian racing arm. He tells O’Shea that he will contact Plumptre, and that he requires the trainer to be available to meet with him the next day. O’Shea agrees.
5 August 2016
At 10.41am Vetsonics send a further email to the Godolphin management group that including trainer John O’Shea and the vets Robson and Adams. The pathology lab operators advise that after further testing they can unequivocally confirm that Polemic has tested positive to infection by the Strangles virus.
A meeting is held away from the glare of the racing industry and the media’s eye at Osborne Park, a purpose built $30 million Godolphin training facility north-west of Sydney on the banks of the Hawkesbury river.
In attendance are head trainer O’Shea, chief vet Robson, racing manager Plumptre and an assistant trainer for the stable named Paul Reid, who is not a member of the upper echelon of the Godolphin operations and is only there because O’Shea directed him to come along with him to the meeting.
Robson tells the group about the positive test result and advises them that under the rules of racing they must inform the stewards immediately.
O’Shea objects and forcefully reiterates his earlier decision that the stewards are not under any circumstances to be told.
Plumtre, who must surely know the answer before he asks the question, wants to know from Robson what will happen if the stewards are advised about the test result. Robson tell him that their stable will be quarantined and their Spring Carnival dreams are over.
Plumtre and O’Shea break away from the other two men and confer privately, and then return to Robson and assistant trainer Reid and and advise them that the official decision is that the racing stewards will not be told about the positive test results.
O’Shea orders Robson to order 40 doses of vaccine which will be administered to the stable’s best 40 horses to protect them from being infected by the Strangles virus.
Hartnell starts favorite in the Melbourne Cup.
The Godolphin star looms up as a winning chance at the clock tower, but only plugs over the final 200m and runs third, beaten about four lengths.
He doesn’t quite get the distance.
April 29 2017
In an announcement that shocks the racing world John O’Shea announces his resignation as head trainer for Godolphin Australia, effective immediately, claiming he has lost both his zest for racing and his enthusiasm for the high-pressure role.
O’Shea tells the media that he intends to take a long spell from training. It is equally both untrue, and perhaps the greatest understatement of all time.
He fails to mention the word ‘enforced’ when making this public statement.
Racing NSW chief steward Marc Van Gestel, who was made aware of O’Shea’s resignation that morning, makes a statement to the media, saying that:
“John phoned me this morning and told me what was happening and that he still takes full responsibility for the horses at Godolphin. There are no concerns as far as the stewards are concerned at this time.”
At or about the same time NSW racing stewards receive information from a whistle blower about the Polemic positive test result and become aware of allegations that senior members of the Godolphin Australia team had conspired to prevent the serious bio-security and animal welfare matter from being reported to NSW racing authorities as required under the Australian Racing Rules.
Stewards begin a confidential and at that stage undisclosed inquiry into the matter.
15 June 2017
Henry Plumptre gives secret evidence before the stewards and pots O’Shea.
Plumtre acknowledges he was involved in the decision, but attempts to minimise his role in the affair by casting blame on O’Shea and, to a lesser extent, Robson. It is an obvious ploy to mitigate both his gross failure to abide by the rules of racing rules, and his callous neglect of the danger he had posed to horses in his own stable, to those of other trainers, and to the racing industry at large.
No-one is surprised. It’s what you’d expect from a pom.
16 June 2017
John O’Shea gives evidence before the stewards and it becomes immediately clear that he has been severed completely from the Godolphin camp, and is now a pariah who like Cain in the Bible walks the earth alone. It is plainly obvious to even the most casual of observers that O’Shea has not been party to the ‘tell as much of the truth as you can but hose it right down and try to keep huge sparks from flying’ strategy that been adopted by those still in the royal blue tent.
You know straight away because the day prior Plumptree had rocked up to see the stewards with a with a high-class QC in tow to represent his interests.
O’Shea has arrived today with a tax-dodging barrister who in 2012 had been warned off by the legal stewards for 3 years for professional misconduct, reduced on appeal to a 30 month disqualification with 24 of them suspended for 5 years.
Perhaps O’Shea hopes the luck of his barrister, a big punter named Matthew Stirling, will rub off on him when the time comes. As the Divine Miss Minogue always says, he should be so lucky.
O’Shea immediately digs himself a hole a hundred miles deep by claiming to the stewards that he was never told by Dr Robson that Polemic had tested positive to the Strangles virus, saying he had been informed only that the horse was showing some symptoms similar to those displayed by equines that are sick with Strangles.
He claims that upon learning this news he approached Henry Plumptre and asked him if they should alert stewards, and left the decision and the responsibility for any advice to Plumptre in his role as the boss.
It is unknown whether the former head trainer’s nose grew twelve inches as he was giving this seemingly clear untrue evidence and thus wilfully misleading the stewards.
The Racing NSW switchboard is overloaded by calls from racegoers reporting that a phalanx of pink pigs are flying backwards over the Randwick Course while O’Shea is giving evidence inside the steward’s room.
19 June 2017
Robson gives evidence to the stewards.
He apportions blame where it falls due, saying that it was O’Shea who proposed and ran the argument that they should cover the test results up, but that it was Plumptre in role as Godolphin Australia boss who made the final decision
Assistant trainer Reid also gives evidence to the stewards.
He tells them that he was at the meeting and observed the events leading to the decision to cover-up the positive test but was not involved in the making of the decision.
Reid confirms that Robson advised Plumptre and O’Shea that they were required to report the confirmed diagnosis of shingles in one of their horses, and corroborates Robson’s account of the events of the day.
Bookies wind the price of the Winx to win first up – O’Shea to get scrubbed double into $1.01. Winx wins the first leg after giving every bastard a heart attack. Not a bookie in the land will let live ticket holders in the double lay off.
23 June 2017
Racing NSW makes public the news that its stewards have been conducting investigations into the issue, and announce that a formal inquiry will begin on 27 June. O’Shea is called to appear at the inquiry.
27 June 2017
O’Shea appears before the stewards and perjures himself.
He maintains that his evidence that he knew nothing about the positive test results is true, but his story is looking more and more like Swiss cheese by the minute.
Full of holes.
24 July 2017
Plumptre, obviously realising that he’s f*cked, publicly announces his resignation from Godolphin Australia’s top role.
It is nearly a year since he made the decision to cover-up the positive test and order vaccinations for his stables top 40 horses without alerting anyone outside of the Godolphin camp of the potential danger his horses present to others.
2 August 2017
Plumptre pleads guilty to to a charge that
under AR64K(2), in that he did not report as soon as possible by the quickest means of communication available to Racing NSW, the Principal Racing Authority in NSW, that the racehorse Polemic was confirmed as being infected with the notifiable disease or condition strangles as required by AR64K(2) when he became aware that the racehorse Polemic was so infected, on 5 August 2016.
His QC makes extensive written and oral submissions to the stewards painting Plumptre as a real good bloke, for a Pom.
17 August 2017
Racing NSW Stewards find that Plumptre entered a guilty plea at the first available opportunity and is contrite, which in layman’s terms means that he’s sorry.
It’s not made exactly clear whether Henry’s actually sorry that he did it (or didn’t do it, as the case was) or that he got caught, but in the absence of confirmation stewards the make the call that it’s the former and take his contrition and his early plea into account when sentencing Plumptre to a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket and then discounting it by a quarter.
No mention is made at all of the fact the Plumptre has stayed schtum about the whole sordid affair for the better part of 12 months. It is a remarkable omission. Or not perhaps, dependent on whether you’re a wide eyed innocent or a cynical, 40 year photo-finish loss battered and baked bean for dinner after a bad Saturday beaten punter.
Remarkably – and inexplicably – the stewards find that Plumptre’s offence in the lower scale of things because he took appropriate bio-security measured to prevent the spread of Polemic’s infection.
I use the terms remarkable and inexplicable and repeat them because Polemic started first up at the provincials just seven weeks after being diagnosed with Strangles and got beaten into 4th place as the 3-1 second favorite.
The standard recommended treatment and management of a horse infected with Strangles is for the animal to be quarantined for 6-8 weeks.
You can’t be in quarantine and be running around in 3-year-old maidens at Hawkesbury getting beaten 2.9 lengths at the same time can you sportsfans?
And even if you’ve been released from solitary confinement a week before race day, every one in racing knows that you can’t have a horse anywhere near fit enough in that short time to present as a starter in a registered race.
So exactly what bio-security measures had Mr Plumptre put in place that so impressed the panel of stewards?
Starts and ends with zero and goes by the name of Mr N. One.
The fix is in.
A few minutes later my assessment of matters firm from even to Ajax odds when the multi-millionaire, who the year before sold his Bellevue Hill mansion for six million bucks and then picked up a smaller pad in Mosman for just five million, is fined just $20 000, reduced to $15 000 on the grounds related above.
It is a ridiculously light sentence for an offence that could with just an inch of bad luck have brought the racing industry to its knees. The stewards have looked after the rich kid who’s the pet of Australia’s biggest breeder, owner and race sponsor.
It’s obvious that the one-time (and soon to be again) battler O’Shea’s going to be the scapegoat and cop all the weight of blame. There will be no taking into account phantom bio-security measures in sentencing for our Johnny, for that no doubt will be found by the stewards to be Henry’s doing, and Henry’s good deed alone.
They are going to throw the whole bloody book at O’Shea. They’ll probably throw two. It’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve it either. What was he thinking not reporting the finding of the virulent disease in the first place, and then compounding his sins by telling such blatantly stupid lies to the stewards, not once but twice? I was once a huge fan of O’Shea’s back in the Private Steer days, but his reckless endangerment of other horses and participants in racing the racing game has meant he’s lost me, and in my view needs to serve a long stretch on the sidelines.
However his boss Henry Plumptre – the man in charge of the whole Godolphin Operation, a hitherto highly respected and extremely powerful figure in the racing industry who was prepared to set the whole show ablaze – deserves to be warned off for life. Yet here he walking away smiling with the equivalent of a parking ticket in his pocket that he pay out of his chump change.
But do the stewards know that Henry’s new five million dollar mansion has been paid for by the Sheikh?
Have they considered that it might be a five million dollar thank you gift for keeping the Godolphin stables open during the spring? Or maybe a bribe given as an inducement not to tell all if or when – had they been tipped off? – the stewards came knocking? Or perhaps even an early severance package paid in recognition of the fact that Henry might have to take the fall and torch O’Shea to save the operation?
Did the stewards delve into Plumptre’s dealings and consider these things?
Is Winx going to get beaten over a mile by Polemic?
The fix is in alright, don’t you worry about that.
Meanwhile O’Shea’s fool of a gadabout lawyer who doesn’t like paying his tax forgets that he’s acting for the defence and not the prosecution and puts up two of the most ridiculously idiotic submissions ever heard in a NSW steward’s room.
The first is that in 2008, whilst a public trainer, O’Shea discovered 2 cases of Strangles in horses in his yard, reported it immediately to racing authorities and took decisive action to address the issue by arranging for the animals to be immediately be quarantined.
The intent of the submisson – which incredibly has been made AFTER the barrister and his client have been made aware of all the highly damning evidence against them – is to show that John O’Shea is a responsible bloke who always does what he’s required to do.
But of course the flip side of the coin which the flipping-flopping fakir representing O’Shea forgot to consider is that his submission has just wiped out any current or future argument in O’Shea’s defense that he wasn’t fully across the reporting of Strangles rules because he was too busy training horses to read law books and that Godolphin has a phalanx of staff to that job for him and they reported to Henry Plumptre, whose job it was as CEO to make the relevant reports.
It’s not a bad argument is it? Or would have been anyway had O’Shea’s barrister not just torched it. Even worse, he’s also put a sign up on the steward’s room wall in flashing neon lights saying that his client knew full well what to do if he came across a case of strangles, had done it before, should have done it again, and didn’t because he had Hartnell primed for The Cup and was a bird for a huge sling and a job for life with the Sheikh if he could pull it off, and needed to avoid the stables being closed to do it.
I’m surprised he didn’t simply save O’Shea a whole of time and money in legal fees and hand the steward’s a loaded gun.
Oh yeah he did. He also submitted on the perjury count that O’Shea had no reason to lie. Really? An almost certain loss of your livelihood’s not a reason? Being despised and reviled by your colleagues if you admit you did something that could have cost them theirs isn’t a reason? Potentially being personally sued by anyone else who suffered loss as a consequence of your actions and inactions – the punters that 7 weeks later backed Polemic in the maiden perhaps? – isn’t a reason?
Jesus H. Christ. With friends like this lawyer who the f*ck would ever need enemies?
O’Shea of course is found guilty on both counts.
Sentencing is adjourned to a date to be fixed.
He’s f*cked John O’Shea is.
Unless of course some bugger exposes the faux bio-security taking measures scam that Henry Plumptre’s team have pulled and the stewards have run with, and asks some pertinent questions in the right places, and by putting responsibility exactly where it belongs tie the pompous prick back to the stake from which he’s just so eloquently escaped.
What was it Lenny Lower once said?