This story was written by Brent Zerafa and published on Racing.com
To understand the oddity of the NSW Stewards actions in the past week, you must know or refresh your memory about this story.
James McDonald’s association with The Tennis Player was known to stewards well before September 3, but it was on this day their suspicions were heightened that the pair may be a little too close.
The Tennis Player, the nickname which Anthony Gardiner carries, had made a move in the Randwick betting ring for Victorian-visitor Dibayani, who was $4 favourite with the majority of bookies.
He is a horse that hasn’t won since he was trained in Ireland some three years ago, but his two previous efforts at Randwick had been sound behind champion mare Winx.
The Tennis Player, not shy of having a good crack, waltzed through the ring and had $10,000 on Dibayani, cash straight from his bag which he notoriously carries over his shoulder and across his body.
The bet was noted by stewards and so too his movements that soon followed.
The Tennis Player made his way to the Theatre Of The Horse where the jockeys were being legged up to their mounts.
It is not unusual for punters to chirp to jockeys from over the fence, often humorous remarks or sometimes ones of encouragement and nothing that would catch the ire of stewards.
But the stipes had their attention pricked to Gardiner who had made contact with several riders.
With all jockeys now on their horses and the clock winding down to the start of the Group 2 Tramway, The Tennis Player darted back through the bottom floor of the Royal Randwick grandstand and out to the public lawn that meets the course proper.
Surveillance continued from the stewards and then a brief acknowledgement was made with McDonald as he walked along the tunnel and on to the track.
As the horses cantered to the 1400m start and Dibayani still commanded favouritism, Hauraki, the horse McDonald was riding hovered around the $14 mark.
The Godolphin trained runner was resuming off a Brisbane weight-for-age campaign where he placed second to Our Ivanhowe in the Group 1 Doomben Cup, but the task of racing first-up on a Heavy 8 surface had several believing conditions weren’t to his liking.
But it was Hauraki and McDonald that had Racing NSW chief steward Marc Van Gestel intrigued.
Well before this race, Van Gestel gained intelligence from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, an agency which the stewards share information with, that Gardiner and McDonald were tight.
The culmination of these events led to Van Gestle picking up the phone.
With the horses beginning to load for the Tramway, he made contact with McDonald via racing officials positioned behind the barriers.
McDonald was made aware that Gardiner had backed Dibayani and stewards were monitoring their association.
Van Gestel wanted to make sure McDonald was definitely trying aboard the John O’Shea-trained runner.
And as it turns out, he certainly did as Hauraki stormed down the middle of the track to win the race, beating Le Romain, with Dibayani finishing third, beaten just under a length.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter.
When the day was complete, McDonald was asked to return to the steward’s room.
The situation was further explained and he was warned about his association with The Tennis Player.
But much to the disappointment of the stewards, their advice wasn’t adhered too.
All this evidence was provided as fact at the Racing NSW inquiry on Thursday, outlined by Van Gestel and not disputed by McDonald’s legal counsel.
Van Gestel outlined that contact between McDonald and Gardiner was certainly frequent, with phone records showing they’d speak on several occasions every day.
Nothing untoward was found to have taken place on September 3, but it was when stewards began to delve a little deeper.
The $1,000 bet at $5 was placed by Gardiner, who himself backed Astern to win $125,000.
Two days prior, Gardiner also backed the un-raced Astern to win the Golden Slipper, with tickets worth $100,000.
Several people were interviewed, including a close associate of McDonald who was not named.
His phone was forensically analysed but data from October 5, 2015 to December 6, 2015 could not be retrieved by investigators.
Both McDonald and his associate denied information had purposely been deleted.
Evidence was also given at the inquiry that Gardiner continued to back Astern during his autumn two-year-old preparation in the lead up to the Golden Slipper.
Not content with the pre-post bets to win $100,000, he also took several doubles with Astern as the anchor in the Golden Slipper to win $300,000 and then further backed the Silver Slipper winner to win another $250,000 on the day of the $3.5 million race.
Astern failed to figure in the finish from a wide barrier and McDonald was not deemed to have any association with the bets.
The associate of McDonald that wasn’t named also backed Astern to win the Golden Rose for a collect of $25,000.
The bets were placed on August 21, two days after Astern trialled brilliantly at Randwick and prior to his first-up win as a three-year-old in the Run To The Rose.
Once again, stewards investigated all communications and financial records but there were no adverse findings against McDonald to say he was party to such betting activity.
McDonald’s counsel Matthew Stirling explained that jockeys being befriended by punters is nothing new.
He said his client was naive as a young 24-year-old from New Zealand and had no doubt been manipulated by Gardiner.
Their association has since ceased, with McDonald refusing to answer his calls and attempts by Gardiner to speak with McDonald at his house were shut down by McDonald’s brother who refused him entry and politely told him to knick off.
Stirling explained that McDonald is well aware he did the wrong thing and has had time to reflect on his decisions in the month he has already spent on the sidelines.
Van Gestel was pleased to hear McDonald no longer has contact with The Tennis Player but he made it clear that the conversation should have stopped when he made the call behind the barriers at Randwick on September 3.