Claims of blackmail and counter-claims of excess drinking and unprofessionalism marked a Judicial Control Authority hearing at Te Rapa yesterday which confirmed Jason Waddell would be without a ride in Sunday's $1 million Karaka Million at Ellerslie.
Waddell and his agent Darryl Anderson believed they had a firm booking for the Stephen Marsh-trained favourite Ruud Awakening but the JCA panel of Richard Seabrook and Adrian Dooley dismissed those claims and found in favour of Marsh and the filly's syndicate manager Albert Bosma, who had maintained a booking had never been made.
The upshot is that ace Australian jockey Craig Williams, who rode Ockham's Razor to victory in last year's Karaka Million, will take the ride and Waddell, who had turned down the ride on the unbeaten Gobi Ranger in order to ride Ruud Awakening, will watch the race from the jockeys' room.
In a 40-minute hearing, plenty of dirty laundry was aired as a previously tight jockey-trainer relationship tore apart at the seams.
Afterwards Marsh said he was pleased with JCA panel's decision but expressed regret that the matter had got to that stage.
"I'm happy but disappointed it's come to this. We've all put our cases forward to the JCA and they've come up with a decision in our favour and I'm happy with the decision that's been made. But I have to say I'm disappointed it's come to this," Marsh said.
Seabrook said the JCA was "clearly satisfied" that Waddell was never confirmed as Ruud Awakening's jockey for the Karaka Million.
However, earlier Anderson claimed he had received a verbal confirmation for the Karaka Million of "We're all go" from Marsh in a phone call between the pair after Waddell had won aboard Ruud Awakening in her final leadup race at Ellerslie last Saturday week.
And Waddell read a text conversation exchanged between he and Marsh on January 12 which had indicated that the jockey would be aboard for the Karaka Million.
He had text: "Richest race in NZ this is what we have talked about for years!", to which Marsh had replied: "And it's ours pal".
But Marsh said the first time the matter of confirming Waddell for Ruud Awakening in the Karaka Million came up was on January 15, three days after her Ellerslie win, when he booked the rider for the Go Racing Syndicate-owned pair of Lucky Country and Savour The Moment for Trentham last Saturday.
"I expressed my concerns to Darryl about Jason's on-going weight issues and lack of dedication and professionalism in the last month," Marsh said.
"Albert was also concerned about Jason's lack of dedication and professionalism and his clients were very concerned. We talked about it at length and came to the agreement that if Jason couldn't do the 54 1/2 kilos on Lucky Country that Saturday at Wellington, then we would not have the confidence to book him for Ruud Awakening in the Karaka Million."
Marsh said he spoke to Waddell about that agreement and he had replied: "No problem, good to go with that weight".
"I stipulated to him that it was a big weekend of premier racing and we needed to get it bang on," Marsh said.
"I said 'Albert's getting nervous and his clients are getting nervous and the reason they are getting nervous is you've been drinking too much and you haven't been turning up to racemeetings and nearly every meeting you've been to you've been overweight'. I said 'make sure you don't let me down this time'."
Marsh said he then rang Anderson and gave him the ultimatum: "If [Waddell] doesn't make 54 1/2 kilos this weekend we will not have the confidence to book him for the Karaka Million."
He said Anderson text him back 30 minutes later saying Waddell was "very aware he had to do the weight and the business this weekend".
However, Waddell approached Marsh at Trentham and told him he wouldn't be able to make Lucky Country's weight and couldn't fulfil the engagement.
Marsh replaced Waddell on both Lucky Country and Savour The Moment.
"I said to him 'Jason, you've ruined our day and your chance to win a million'. He turned around and left and there was no argument, no nothing."
Marsh later that evening booked Williams for Ruud Awakening for the Karaka Million.
Anderson disputed the claims that Waddell had lacked dedication, saying the jockey was currently fifth on the premiership with a tally higher than for all of last season, and said he would make the 54.5kg weight for Ruud Awakening on Sunday, a weight he had twice ridden her at previously.
"The booking was confirmed immediately after her win on January 12 at Ellerslie, which meant Jason had to turn down the ride on the unbeaten Gobi Ranger to ride her and now faces the prospect of not having a ride in the race at all.
"I confirmed this booking without conditions by mobile phone to Stephen about half an hour after Ruud Awakening had won on that day. He said 'she will only improve, she'll drop in weight, we're all go'."
Anderson said Waddell had been booked for alternate rides in the races Lucky Country and Savour The Moment contested last Saturday but Marsh had told him to "think very carefully" before turning down the Go Racing-owned pair.
He said Waddell was delayed at Hamilton airport for one hour and 21 minutes on Saturday which meant he missed spending the necessary time in the sauna to lose the remaining kilogram to make the weight on Lucky Country.
"On Sunday I was told by Stephen that he and the Go Racing team had lost confidence in Jason and he would not be riding Ruud Awakening in the million-dollar race," Anderson said.
He informed Marsh and Bosma that Waddell intended to challenge their decision through a judicial hearing and later spoke to Bosma, who told him that if that process didn't happen Waddell would be reinstated on the Go Racing horses after the Karaka Million.
Waddell claimed that equated to blackmail.
"I feel I've been very harshly discriminated against. I've been bullied by suits," Waddell said.
"I feel Albert tried to blackmail me by saying that if I didn't take this matter any further it would only be a one-ride miss on Ruud Awakening and I'd be back on her and the Go Racing horses in the future. To me that's blackmail.
"I'm fit and focused and ready to go - and I always have been."
Waddell said he decided not to ride at below 56kg before Ruud Awakening in the Karaka Million in a bid to consolidate his weight but his hand had been forced to ride Lucky Country at 54.5kg when Marsh and Bosma had given him the ultimatum that he would lose the Karaka Million ride if he didn't ride that filly at Trentham.
"I told Stephen on the Monday that I didn't want to ride Lucky Country in the Desert Gold Stakes as the weight was going to be too light for me but they forced me to take the rides [with the threat of losing the Karaka Million ride]," Waddell said.
Bosma refuted the claims of blackmail and said the text messages did not mean a confirmation of booking.
"The only person who has acted unprofessionally in this situation is Jason Waddell and we simply do not have the confidence in him to put him on," Bosma said.
Last night Anderson described the decision as "nonsensical" and said he and Waddell hadn't ruled out an appeal.
In an emailed statement, Anderson wrote: "Naturally we're both very disappointed in the ruling which stated there was no clear evidence that there was a firm booking. I spoke to Stephen half an hour after the filly's last win and confirmed the ride in the same manner I have confirmed every ride since I have managed Jason - no different. Jason has text messages that confirms he was riding as well."
Meanwhile, a final field of 14 plus one emergency was declared for Sunday's two-year-old feature, with Australian raider Minaj withdrawn after he was found to have an elevated temperature yesterday.
Victorian trainer Anthony Freedman tweeted: "Unfortunately Minaj has spiked a temperature and is out of Karaka Million, very disappointing for all concerned."
Ruud Awakening drew barrier seven, with Fantastic Honour drawing barrier one, Touche barrier five, Catalonia six, Gateway 10, Gobi Ranger 14 and impressive debut winner Al Strada the outside gate of 15.
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