NZ Metro TC 3 September 2021 – R6 (heard 17 September 2021 at Addington – Penalty Decision dated 13 October 2021) – Ross Cameron

ID: RIB5165

Respondent(s):
Ross Cameron - Driver

Applicant:
Nick Ydgren, Chief Stipendiary Steward

Adjudicators:
Russell McKenzie and Dave Anderson

Persons Present:
On the Papers

Information Number:
A12681

Decision Type:
Adjudicative Decision

Charge:
Failing to Take Reasonable and Permissible Measures

Rule(s):
868 (2)

Plea:
Not Admitted

Animal Name:
Saginaw

Code:
Harness

Race Date:
03/09/2021

Race Club:
NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club Inc

Race Location:
Addington Raceway - 75 Jack Hinton Drive, Addington, Christchurch, 8024

Race Number:
R7

Hearing Date:
17/09/2021

Hearing Location:
On the Papers

Outcome: Proved

Penalty: Open Driver Ross Cameron suspended for 3 months

BACKGROUND:

Following a defended hearing held on 17th September 2021, the Adjudicative Committee found proved a charge against Mr Cameron that, in Race 7  at NZ Metropolitan TC’s  meeting at Addington Raceway on 3 September 2021, as  the Driver of SAGINAW, he committed a breach of Rule 868 (2) in that he failed to take all reasonable and permissible measures to ensure that his horse was given full opportunity to win the race or to obtain the best possible position and/or finishing place.

In its written decision dated 23 September 2021 , the Committee required the parties to file written penalty submissions which have now been received.

PENALTY SUBMISSIONS OF THE INFORMANT:

Mr Ydgren’s penalty submissions are set out hereunder.

1.    In this extended 2020/2021 season Mr. Cameron has had 54 drives. In the previous 3 seasons he has had between 40 and 46 drives.  He is therefore not a busy driver averaging 1 drive per week.

2.   The starting point penalty for a mid-range breach of the Rule is a 20-drive suspension or a $1000 fine.

3.   Aggravating factors – high end – made inquiries into betting, horse raced 2 days later – not lost on the Stewards was that SAGINAW was not eligible for that race had it won this event, damaged the perception of harness racing.

4.   Mitigating  factors – clear record however this is to be expected and should be seen more as a neutral factor. Mr Cameron does have a good record in a general sense however having only been sanctioned in the previous 12 months by an Adjudicative Committee for whip offences.

5.   Referring to another portion of text from the Higgs decision this time relating to penalty

A breach of this particular Rule is one that invariably jeopardises the integrity of harness racing for reasons which are self-evident. Harness races are based on the requirement that all contestants in a race are given every possible opportunity by their drivers and that, when the race has been run, all contestants have been fully tested and have been asked to do the best that they can. This has to be the case in order that the betting public, so important to the industry, can have confidence that they have had a run for their money when they have invested their money on contestants in a harness race. Any suggestion that a horse has not been given every possible opportunity and has not been asked to do the best that it can, for whatever reason, will result in loss of public confidence in harness racing. As stated, it is the primary function of Judicial Committees, in dealing with penalty, to “maintain integrity and public confidence in harness racing”.

 6.   Stewards are not in receipt of any evidence to say that Mr. Cameron deliberately intended to deny his horse the opportunity to finish in a better finishing position, and so it is submitted that he displayed a serious lack of judgment in deciding not to shift out from behind the parked horse at the top of the straight when he had ample time and opportunity to do so.

7.   Mr Cameron’s actions have had a significant impact on those who placed a bet on the race. The on-going confidence in Harness Racing needs constant reinforcement including the displaying of driving using reasonable and permissible measures at all times to ensure a horse is given every opportunity to win a race or finish in the best possible position and Mr. Cameron’s actions have clearly failed to meet that threshold.

8.   Any breach of this Rule puts into question the integrity of Harness Racing. Races are run on the premise that that all horses are given every opportunity by their drivers to do the best they can do.  It is not unreasonable to believe that a person watching the race – whether they had invested on SAGINAW or not – would have been left wondering why Mr. Cameron did not shift out when he could but rather drive his horse into a position where he was clearly not going to have an uninterrupted run to the finish line.

9.   In the circumstances Stewards submit that a period of suspension is the appropriate penalty.

10. From the starting point we would generally apply an uplift for the level of offending and the consequential damage to the image of integrity in racing. In this case and knowing that Mr Cameron only drives on one occasion per week we would arrive at a penalty of six months which could be seen as unduly harsh. However, any penalty must be seen to be meaningful and act as a deterrent for others.  On this occasion it is submitted that the period of suspension should be measured in weeks and not drives so as not to create any precedent based on drives for more busy participants.

11.  We submit a recommendation of a 14-weeks suspension which would sit in line with a recent decision handed to Open Driver, Alan Clark when dealt with under the same rule. Both drivers have similar appearance statistics. However, Mr. Clark did admit the breach and arguably was a less serious case.

PENALTY SUBMISSIONS OF THE RESPONDENT:

I would like to draw reference to the second sentence [of the informant’s submissions] that states that the starting point for a mid-range breach of the rule is a 20-drives suspension or a $1,000 fine. I would be strongly in favour of a fine, rather than the proposed 14 weeks suspension.

The submission states that a six months suspension was seen as unduly harsh. I believe that a 14 weeks penalty is also unduly harsh, given the tough and unprecedented time that Covid has put on us recently.

In my first three seasons as a driver, I was a hobby trainer/driver, as I worked within the tourism industry. Since Covid struck in my fourth season as a driver, I was forced to refocus my future and in my fifth season now as a driver, also impacted by Covid, I have been able to improve greatly and focus solely on harness racing.

I have been actively involved in the industry in this time, being responsible for reinstating the Motukarara workouts. I have done this as a volunteer to help the industry – taking nominations, doing the fields and results online for harness  racing. In this time I also got to purchase a video camera, which has been beneficial for the owners and general public to watch the workouts.

I am at a point in my driving career where a suspension would be extremely detrimental to me. This season alone, I have gained outside drives from six individual trainers, and have been gaining good success along the way. With increased exposure and experience I believe I can continue to grow on this.

I draw reference to Mr Trent Yesberg’s case (decision dated 19 August 2021) that states young people are the future of the harness racing industry as Mr Yesberg is clearly a promising young trainer and the Committee in that case stated that it did not wish to be responsible for driving him out of the industry.

With 8 wins from 56 drives this extended season, I believe my strike rate is comparable to some of the leading drivers. So, I would strongly ask the Committee to consider a fine in this instance, to allow me to continue to grow as a driver. A 14-weeks suspension will severely hamper my ability to hold the outside drives that I currently have, and would put serious doubt on my potential future in the industry.

REASONS FOR PENALTY:

1. The Penalty Guide starting point for penalty for a medium-level breach of Rule 868 (2) is a 20-drives suspension or a fine of $1,000. Penalties in previous cases under the Rule have invariably been periods of suspension arrived at, after factoring in the various aggravating and mitigating factors to arrive at the appropriate number of drives in the particular circumstances of the case, by converting the number of drives into days, based on the frequency with which the Respondent drives. This is seldom a simple exercise  and this is especially so where the Respondent is an infrequent Driver.

2.  Mr Ydgren, in his penalty submissions, submitted that Mr Cameron “displayed a serious lack of judgement in deciding not to shift out from behind the parked horse at the top of the straight when he had ample time and opportunity to do so”. The key word is “deciding”. The Committee has found that it was a conscious decision by Mr Cameron and, as it turned out, it was serious error of judgement, and a culpable one, on his part.

3. There are varying degrees of gravity of offending under the Rule, as the cases show. The Committee believes that the breach on this occasion is above medium-level, if not “high end” as submitted by Mr Ydgren. It was so manifest, we suggest, as to be noticed by even the most inexpert viewer. Mr Ydgren has submitted that this is an aggravating factor. He refers to “the level of offending and the consequential damage to the of integrity in racing”. An uplift to the starting point would be justified but, by a very fine margin, we have decided to keep to the starting point of 20 drives.

4. From that starting point, the Committee needs to consider any mitigating factor or factors. The only relevant mitigating factor is Mr Cameron’s clear record under the Rule. Mr Ydgren has submitted that this is to be expected having regard to the infrequency with which Mr Cameron drives and suggests that his record should be regarded as a “neutral” factor. We take this to mean, neither an aggravating nor a mitigating factor. However, the Committee is prepared to give a discount from the 20-drives starting point for Mr Cameron’s clear record although, we accept, he has a relatively small number of drives since being licensed as a Junior Driver for the 2017 season. That discount we fix at 4 drives.

5. As stated earlier in our reasons, it is by no means a simple exercise converting a number of drives, in this case 16, to a number of days or meetings. Mr Ydgren submits that Mr Cameron is not a busy Driver and averages 1 drive per week. That is probably fair based on Mr Cameron’s driving statistics  over 4-5 seasons, as referred to by Mr Ydgren.

6. The Committee has had regard to the penalty submissions filed by Mr Cameron. He tells us that he has now made training and driving his full-time occupation and, as a young man, he is to be encouraged in his pursuit of a career in the Industry. He further tells us that, this season, he has obtained drives from six outside Trainers and it is noticeable that he has been driving more regularly of late, and with some success. He had two drives for outside stables at the recent Methven meeting at Geraldine and, prior to that, one at the Timaru meeting on 3rd October. In the last month, he has had six drives. He has been making a contribution outside of his driving by his work in connection with the Motukarara workouts.

7. The Committee has decided that it is fair and reasonable to equate the 16-drives suspension that we have arrived at in 5 above, in Mr Cameron’s case, to 3 months of drives based on 5-6 drives per month. We believe that this is the least restrictive outcome that is appropriate in the circumstances. The Committee is unable to give serious consideration to Mr Cameron’s submission for a fine rather than a suspension. A suspension is called for and, indeed, a  fine for a breach of the Rule is extremely rare.

8. The extract from the Higgs decision which Mr Ydgren has quoted in his submissions is apposite, and we respectfully adopt it in its entirety as applying to our reasoning in this case. We are satisfied that the penalty arrived at will suffice to hold Mr Cameron accountable for his offending, to promote in him a sense of responsibility for and an acknowledgement of that offending and the need to denounce his actions. In addition, and very importantly, we have been mindful in deciding penalty of the need to protect the integrity of and maintain public confidence in Harness Racing.

PENALTY:

Mr Cameron’s Open Driver’s Licence is suspended for a period of 3 months. The period of suspension is to commence on the date of this decision and will expire on the date 3 months from that date. In terms of Rule 1304, if Mr Cameron has engagements to drive a horse during the next seven-day period from the date of this decision, he may seek a deferment to enable him to complete those engagements, in which case he should notify the Executive Officer of the Racing Integrity Board immediately. If a deferment is granted, the dates of the commencement and expiration of the suspension period will be amended accordingly

CONCLUSIONS:

Mr Cameron’s Open Driver’s Licence is suspended for a period of 3 months.

COSTS:

The hearing took place on a race day and, accordingly, there will be no order for costs.

 

ADDENDUM

MINUTE OF ADJUDICATIVE COMMITTEE DATED 14 OCTOBER 2021

[1] In its penalty decision dated 13th October 2021, the Adjudicative Committee gave leave to the Respondent to apply for a deferment of the term of suspension imposed to enable the Respondent to complete any driving engagement or engagements he might have in the next seven-day period from 13th October.

[2] Mr Cameron has now advised that he has a confirmed and notified drive at the meeting of New Zealand Metropolitan TC at Addington on Friday, 15th October.

[3] The Committee hereby orders that the term of suspension imposed in its decision dated 13th October 2021 is deferred until after racing on 15th October 2021 and will now expire on 15th January 2022.

RG McKenzie (Chair)

Decision Date: 13/10/2021

Publish Date: 14/10/2021