Racing: Zahra first casualty of race-fix probe

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Melbourne jockey Mark Zahra has been stood down from future rides for the Dubai-based Darley racing operation while police investigate race-fixing allegations.

The split comes after Zahra was named by Fairfax and the ABC in connection with a probe by Victorian police into claims a race run at Cranbourne in April last year was fixed.

It is alleged jockeys rode to ensure the favourite lost.

Zahra, who has just returned from a riding stint in Hong Kong, confirmed Darley had told him he wouldn't be required in his former role as Victorian stable jockey, at least until the case is resolved.

Asked if a report of the split was correct, he replied, "Yes. There's not much I can say on legal advice, but I'm pretty disappointed.

"They told me I'm not needed at least until this thing's over.

"The really disappointing thing is that I haven't been charged with anything.

"I'm implicated in something, I guess, but I haven't been charged."

Darley is a worldwide thoroughbred racing and breeding operation headed by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.

Fairfax and the ABC said Zahra had come to the attention of police over his ride in the race won by Smoking Aces ridden by Danny Nikolic.

They claim horses were ridden in a way that assisted Nikolic's mount.

Victoria Police have declined to confirm if either Zahra or Nikolic is under investigation.

Police say the allegations of race fixing emerged during their unsolved investigation of the murder of Sydney racing identity Les Samba, who was shot dead in Melbourne in February last year.

Racing stewards questioned Nikolic on the day of the Cranbourne race after their attention was drawn to his behaviour during the event.

They accepted his explanation and did not proceed with further inquiries.

Racing authorities have rejected reports the Cranbourne race is part of widespread corruption in the sport.

They say there is no endemic corruption in the industry as police conduct their investigations.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said that it was only one allegation about one race and the investigation was not turning into a wider corruption probe across the racing industry.

Australian Racing Board chief and former federal Liberal frontbencher Peter McGauran said the allegations might be merely an orchestrated tactic to help solve the Samba murder.

"When you strip it all away there is no doubt in my mind this is the police pursuing the Les Samba murder inquiry," Mr McGauran said.

While he questioned the motives of the police, the former federal minister said there could be a positive aspect to the attention the affair has focused on the racing industry.

"If any good comes out of this by giving racing bodies more power to investigate their industry it will have achieved something," he said.

- AAP

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