Horseracing handicap chief's 'three bad days' caused unprecedented local scandal

Horse Racing handicapper Dennis Quirke (left), appears before the Judicial Control Authority for Racing.
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Horse Racing handicapper Dennis Quirke (left), appears before the Judicial Control Authority for Racing.

A top racing official caught betting on local races has been fined and disqualified from racetracks for 10 months.

Suspended thoroughbred handicapper Dennis Quirke made a net gain of barely $300 after betting on 14 local races.

On Friday, he was fined more than ten times that amount, and disqualified from all racing facilities for 10 months.

The Chief Handicapper was remorseful and had a "90 per cent" chance of losing his job at New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR), his lawyer John Tannahill said on Friday.

All parties at the Judicial Control Authority for Racing hearing agreed Quirke had no "inside information" on the local races he bet on.

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The independent Racing Integrity Unit (RIU) investigated Quirke, 54, for betting $627 on local races last year.

Tannahill said Quirke had "three bad days" when he made decisions on the hoof. 

The first, Tannahill told the Authority, occurred on August 8 last year, when his client spent $90 on a race and won $325.50.

On September 12, Quirke made "modest investments again" on races at Awapuni and Ruakaka, and in late October spent $55 on a "hot favourite" on a race in Woodville, the lawyer added.

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"He had what I would call a dabble."

Tannahill said if the "penny had dropped" Quirke would have stopped to think before betting. The barrister said he accepted Quirke should pay "a reasonable amount" of the RIU's costs".

But the RIU's lawyer Brian Dickey said Quirke's early admission of guilt meant the Unit would not push him to reimburse its costs.

Authority chair Murray McKechnie said this was a "generous" gesture.

McKechnie agreed with Tannahill that amounts involved in the 14 local races Quirke bet on were "very modest sums" compared with what he bet on races abroad.

Quirke had a return of just over $940 from the races he was not supposed to bet on.

McKechnie said no other local cases were comparable to Quirke's case.

Quirke joined New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing in March 2012. He was accountable for all ratings and weights the NZTR handicapping team issued. 

He told the hearing his role also involved helping clubs perform to a high level.

The summary said Quirke was known within the industry as a "medium to large punter".

From January to April last year, Quirke spent a monthly average of $56,500 on betting, with an average of 873 separate bets each month.

There was no suggestion from any parties this gambling was problematic. But an RIU betting analyst put Quirke on a list of officials who were "checked upon" frequently.

On December 3, a check revealed Quirke had bet on NZTR meetings in New Zealand, in breach of NZTR racing rules, and his own employment contract.

Investigators interviewed him a fortnight later. When first asked about betting on local races, Quirke said he put the bets on for a friend.

The summary said when Quirke was questioned again, he said, "Just scrub that, no, I put the bets on".

Asked about the rules relating to officials betting, he said he'd never read the rules. But he admitted it was "not a good look" for the Chief Handicapper to bet on New Zealand races.

Quirke had not previously appeared before the Authority.

 Neil Grimstone, of the RIU, said the disqualification meant Quirke was barred for 10 months from any racing facility, including greyhounds, harness and thoroughbred racing.

HANDICAPPING HORSES:
- The NZTR Handicapping Panel is in charge of making sure races are run competitively.
- Each horse is allocated weights to be carried in a race.
- The weight given to each animal is based on its individual merits of that horse.
- Conditions and rules relating to specific races and the Handicapper's judgement are taken into account.

 - Stuff

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