The Fixers

Horse racing is eulogised throughout the world as the Sport of Kings. In Australia, it is also very much the playground of the Mr Bigs and Mr Big-Enoughs of organised crime. No wonder punters are called mugs; races, more so than other sports, are regularly fixed.

Racing became more than a sport for two kings of a sort, drug kings Terrence Clark, boss of the Mr Asia heroin syndicate, and Robert Trimbole, head of the Sydney end of the Griffith marihuana racket and, in turn, associated with the Mr Asia syndicate. Both rigged races to launder profits from drugs.

Clark, who died of a heart attack in Parkhurst Prison in the United Kingdom on 12 August 1983, admitted involvement in race riggings in an interview with Mr Justice Donald Stewart, NSW Supreme Court judge who conducted a Royal Commission into Clark’s activities. Clark said that, apart from drug dealing, his other source of income involved illegal gambling, including the riggings of races . . . ‘all over Australia, not just in NSW’.

Robert Trimbole certainly made a welter of his betting and race fixing operations. At one stage, before fleeing Australia to avoid the 1981 Stewart Royal Commission, he had up to thirteen jockeys on his payroll.

In collaboration with one trainer, Trimbole even bought broken-down gallopers, assigned them to friendly trainers and, attracting longer odds on reentering them in races, hit them with stimulant drugs to clean up in the betting.

In a taped conversation with a Brisbane trainer, Trimbole claimed to have a drug that really made horses go. It was called the Big O. Horses had to have two weeks’ treatment on it before racing. According to the trainer, however, the best stimulant of all was the Big H . . . ‘all the rest is shit’.

But Trimbole was more adept at bribing jockeys to pull horses to allow nominated runners to win. In one recorded instance, towards the end of April 1981, Trimbole arranged to pay off twelve jockeys in one race — paying them $500 each, a total outlay of $6000 to rig one event. This was small change really for Trimbole, who claimed before the NSW Woodward Royal Commission on Drugs to have won over one and a half million dollars from betting.

Quite explicit when telling jockeys what he wanted them to do, he advised one jockey: ‘Just see if you can get him into a hole for us . . . just punch him into a hole and we’ll see if we can work out a trifecta’.

Likewise, jockeys were just as explicit in explaining how far they would go. One jockey was able to reassure Trimbole about another jockey: ‘He doesn’t care if he gets six months . . . he’ll almost strangle a horse to pull it up in a race’.

Notwithstanding what he was up to, Trimbole regarded others as worse than him, in particular a prominent underworld SP betting figure reputed to be the kingpin of Australian race fixing. Trimbole thought this fixer ran so hot he actually advised associates against getting too involved with him.

Between them, they held control of enough jockeys to manipulate races in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. But they did not always get their own way.

On 5 April 1981, when a Sydney trainer informed Trimbole that the SP figure was losing control of his jockeys, Trimbole complained: ‘With all the organising, they are still getting rolled’.

It was thought that their combined rigging operations were being overtaken by yet another major fixer known as Mr E — a euphemism for Mister Excess.

No race is immune from the fixers, not even the Melbourne Cup. In the most publicised episode, Big Philou had to be scratched at the last minute before the 1969 Melbourne Cup. Big Philou had been favourite after winning the Caulfield Cup. Nobody was caught for the nobbling but it was established that Big Philou had been got at with a drug called Danthron.

Not all fixes are the work of organised criminals.

A car salesman from the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, Victorio ‘Rick’ Renzella caused one of Australian racing’s biggest scandals by bringing off a $33000 coup with a ring-in at a Victorian provincial track at Casterton in May 1972. Renzella bought a mediocre bush galloper called Royal School, then bought Vice Regal, a proven performer with a string of city wins. Because of their similar markings, Renzella was able to switch them for the crucial race at Casterton. But the coup came unstuck when the jockey, Gary Canavan, remarked to another jockey: ‘I’m glad that’s over — I stand to make four grand’.

After a sensational trial, Renzella was sentenced to two years’ gaol. His own lawyer, Philip Opas, has since told the inside story in a book titled The Great Ring-in.

The regular and more sinister fixers engage in bribery, doping and standover tactics.

Few who do know what is going on dare speak out. In June 1983, a leading jockey, John Miller, who has ridden a Melbourne Cup winner, called for action. Speaking in Perth, he said: ‘There is no doubt that some races are rigged and that certain big punters are offering jockeys money to sit quiet’. A top trainer, Ted Stanton, made similar disclosures in Sydney in 1978. The following year, a Sydney Turf Club handicapper, Lisle Clark, revealed that he had been threatened to weight a horse favourably ‘or else’. Clark said that a man had called and threatened him about a horse running at Rosehill. The caller had said that, if he did not do as he demanded, Clark would be harmed. However, he went ahead and weighted the horse correctly, and it ran second.

There is ample evidence of race fixers resorting to violence when they have not got their way.

An ALP backbencher in NSW, Keith O’Connell, member for the Central Coast electorate of Peates, has told of a horse stabled in Sydney being burnt to death in an incident during 1977. Reportedly, the horse rug was soaked in kerosene and set alight. Mr O’Connell said he was advised that the horse, Lissome, had had a couple of wins and had apparently won a race against the interests of people involved in race rigging and horse doping. Mr O’Connell said that a person associated with the ownership of the horse had been in New Zealand not long after the burning and had been told that the horse had been destroyed by the ‘Mafia’ because the horse had been allowed to win a race when it was not supposed to have won.

Mr O’Connell also received information at that time that a man at Newcastle had had his home blown up after rejecting attempts by race riggers to organise for a horse not to win a race.

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The same pattern of violence, blackmail and bribery has been used by criminals moving in on the trotting industry.

After a trotting breeder, Leslie Miller, made a complaint to police, two of his brood mares in foal valued at $45000 were stolen from his property at North Richmond at the end of January 1976, and were never recovered. Two weeks later, a trotting trainer, Sue O’Brien, told police she had been offered $1000 to pull the trotter Daphs Darren. Shortly after, the petrol tank of her car was drained at a Bankstown trot meeting and equipment stolen. Two days later, a man approached her with a direct threat: ‘Your life won’t be worth living. We’ll blow your head off and cut Daphs’ throat’.

In another incident, another trainer contacted police with suspicions that fixers had arranged for his horse to win a race. The trainer’s suspicion was aroused when the starting price of the horse had dropped dramatically when he went to back it. Within weeks, two of his horses were found dead. When skinned at a knackery, both horses were found to have marks in their necks indicating needle punctures into their jugular veins.

In what developed into one of Australia’s most intriguing turf conspiracies of recent times, four men were convicted in Sydney in July 1979 for doping racehorses.

The case had been the centre of talk on the racetracks, and the subject of two years of manoeuvring in the courts and controversy in parliament.

The four men were described by police as belonging to a syndicate responsible for doping racehorses in NSW, Victoria and Hong Kong.

They were found guilty by a jury before Judge Thorley in the Sydney District Court — the first conviction for use of the drug Chlorbutal, normally used as a preservative in eye and ear drops. It makes racehorses run slower than normally.

The four men were convicted of conspiring to dope racehorses with the drug to ‘cheat and defraud’ the public.

Rodney Stanislaus Finlay was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 16 months.

His son, Rodney Finlay, and Peter John Francis, were sentenced to two years, with a non-parole period of 11 months.

The other man, Gregory John McNamara, received 18 months, with a non-parole period of eight months.

All men are from the Newcastle area north of Sydney. They were picked up by police in a series of arrests during the night of April 22-23.

Police said they trailed them from an Elizabeth Bay apartment to Rosehill, where they were seen entering the Jack Denham stables.

Finlay junior was arrested at 11.50 pm, lying in the backyard of a house near the stables. Police took possession of a large capsule of Chlorbutal.

Three hours later, Francis and McNamara were arrested getting into a car, with meat impregnated with the same drug.

Just over an hour later, Finlay senior was picked up returning to the Elizabeth Bay apartment, and he was alleged to have had small capsules of the drug as well as a ball plunger, a device used to administer medicines orally to racehorses.

In court, Finlay junior, Francis and McNamara claimed they had gone to Rosehill to meet some girls, while Finlay senior insisted he had not been at Rosehill at all, having been at Riverwood to see a couple about buying a greyhound dog.

Police alleged they had been seen near racing stables on four previous occasions, always dressed in dark clothes and on the eve of race meetings.

In evidence, it was specifically alleged they had doped Tattenham Lad, which started second favourite in the Graduation Stakes at Canterbury the afternoon following the arrests — and had finished last.

During the trial, a stockman, Peter Frederick Rippon, who had been convicted in 1977 November, of conspiring to dope horses at T. J. Smith’s Tulloch Lodge stables, claimed Finlay senior had offered him $5000 to give perjured evidence to say that the ball plunger in the Finlay case had been the same one used in his case, to suggest that the police had planted it on him.

When a bookmaker, Robert Field, was arrested in May 1980 for doping horses at Rosehill racecourse, he told police: ‘This is much bigger than you think — there are some very big bookmakers involved, and other people’.

Pleading guilty, Field was fined $2000 and placed on a three-year good behaviour bond. In sentencing him, Judge John Foord, of the NSW District Court, said he had no reason to disbelieve Field’s claim that the people he had referred to as ‘heavies’ were involved: ‘They have had time to dispose of the proceeds of the crime and time to manufacture alibis if prosecution did arise. We don’t even know if they are still alive’.

Heavies certainly seemed to have involved in events surrounding the brutal murder of a horse trainer, George Brown, whose butchered and burnt body was found beside empty cans of petrol in the front seat of a burning car alongside a freeway near Bulli, south of Sydney in April 1984.

The weekend before his death, a horse he trained unexpectedly finished second last at Doomben, in Brisbane. Brown was recorded as having been ‘disgusted with the whole race’.

An inquest was told that Brown was killed by skull fractures, caused by blows from a blunt instrument. His arms and legs had been cut off.

After the much-publicised ring-in of a horse called Fine Cotton at Eagle Farm in Brisbane in August 1984, the trainer, Haydon Haitana, claimed his life and those of his family was threatened beforehand. He claimed he had been forced into a conspiracy to replace Fine Cotton with a better performer, Bold Personality. The affair led to police charges in Queensland and action by the Australian Jockey Club in NSW to oust for life racing identities involved in massive betting on the ring-in scheme.

Haitana claimed that, when he was threatened, a ‘front man’ had ‘opened his suit and showed me his gun and said: “Do you want to end up like the trainer Brown?”‘

Unlike galloping or trotting, there are no jockeys or drivers to pull up greyhounds, but rigging is still rife with fixers getting at dogs with drugs. In NSW, greyhound doping is so extensive that nearly one in five dogs swabbed by stewards have produced positive findings.

According to Douglas Meagher, Counsel assisting the Costigan Royal Commission, in a paper on organised crime delivered at the 1983 Anzaas Congress, one or two races are rigged every racing day somewhere in Australia. ‘This is not to suggest that at every race meeting in Australia one or two races are fixed’, he said. ‘That would be far more than is necessary and there is no evidence yet available to show that it is so. Rather, the odds are swung in favour of the bookmaker by the fixing of one or two out of all of the races conducted everywhere in Australia, so that for that race at least the bookmaker knows precisely how the matter will result and can make his profit.’

Meagher provoked a national outcry when he revealed that the same influence had extended to other sports, along the lines of the United States, where far more money is placed on football, basketball and hockey than on horse racing. He suggested that attempts had been made to fix Rugby League matches in Sydney and Australian Football games in Melbourne. ‘In assessing these reports’, he said, ‘it is important to bear in mind that the “fix” is not necessarily in terms of winning or losing, but rather it is to ensure that a win is kept within a particular margin’.

In football betting, bookmakers quote fixed odds, whereby each side is handicapped in accordance with ability, with money wagered not only for a win but on the size of a win. As Meagher outlined it, games are fixed by having key players shave points by allowing their play to keep the score within the point spread.

In May 1983, a champion VFA footballer in Victoria, Fred Cook, full forward with Port Melbourne, disclosed that two SP bookmakers had made an offer to him before a Port Melbourne‒Williamstown game. They had offered him $1000 to play below his best. ‘I thought about it for 30 seconds’, said Cook, ‘and then knocked it back. Human nature made me consider it but then I went out and played my guts out for Port, and we won’. According to Cook, betting on VFA football was common, with up to $30000 wagered around the ground each time Port played key opposition.

Because of its one-to-one nature, boxing has always been more open to fixing than any other sport.

An insight into fight fixing was given in an unusual court case in Sydney in April 1983, when a young fight promoter, Peter Michael Foster, claimed $75000 in insurance from Baltica‒Skandinavia Insurance Co following cancellation of a bout between Tony Mundine and Bunny Johnson at Surfers Paradise the previous year. Foster claimed the insurance after the fight was cancelled on the grounds that Johnson injured a finger in a car door. The claim was dismissed by Mr Justice Clarke, who said he did not accept explanations by Foster as to why neither he nor Johnson would not allow the fight referee or the NSW Amateur Boxing Medical Board to inspect Johnson’s alleged injury. Evidence was given that Foster earlier had approached Mundine’s manager, Charles Gergen, to agree to a fight between Mundine and Johnson as a lead up to a fight between Mundine and American boxer Yaqui Lopez. Foster had said that Johnson would ‘take a dive’ in the fourth or fifth round. Johnson had said: ‘Look, we can make it look good’.

Gergen had rejected the approach, saying that if the fight took place Mundine would try to win as soon as possible. Neither Foster nor Johnson denied that the arrangement had been proposed.

In rejecting Foster’s insurance claim, Mr Justice Clarke said that Foster was dishonest and unscrupulous in suggesting fixing a fight, which would have been a fraud on the public.

Bribery and corruption has not been confined to the more obvious sports, especially when international competition is involved.

From time to time, particularly during the 1978 and 1979 seasons, allegations have been raised that Rugby League matches have been fixed in Sydney, with reports of players betting against themselves. One player reportedly stood to gain $40000 from one bet against his own team. Because of the illegality of the betting, it has always been difficult to get proof. In the late 1960s, when a Balmain player was caught out, and admitted placing a bet, he was expelled. The player was charged with misconduct which was detrimental to the welfare and best interests of the club. He claimed that he made a telephone call which resulted in a bet being laid for a Balmain supporter, who won $500 to $400 when Newtown beat Balmain.

To combat illegal football betting, the NSW Government in 1983 introduced legal Footy TAB. In one season it turned over $8 million, which gives some idea of the money at stake in football wagering. Nevertheless, illegal betting cards continue, with turnover allegedly eclipsing the legal Footy TAB.

Attempts were made to bribe an Australian Socceroos side in the Merlion Cup, a South East Asian tournament, in Singapore in October 1982. Team members were offered money and sex with beautiful women to fix matches in the tournament. Team manager, Steve Kamasz, contacted police when players were approached by illegal bookmakers who stood to make hundreds of thousands of dollars if they could control results. Kamasz himself had been approached. ‘The man offered me money and promised to send me beautiful women’, he said. Singapore police later arrested one man after similar offers were made to players in an opposing Indonesian team.

Whenever there is betting on a sport, there will always be the risk of a fix — all the more so if the betting is illegal. To quote Douglas Meagher, illegal gambling is now a ‘huge business, very well organised and plays a prominent part in the operations of organised crime in Australia’.

from Connections 1 by Bob Bottom

Illustration by Michael Fitzjames