Damien Oliver is one of the most successful jockeys in Australia. He is also one of the luckiest, although possibly not one of the smartest.
Stewards on Friday stood down Oliver from riding duties for a month, after he failed a breath test in the jockeys' room at Warrnambool -- a large western Victorian town currently holding its annual racing carnival which top Melbourne jockeys like to attend for both the riding and the after-parties.
The riding limit for jockeys is set at .02, but "Ollie ", as the 43 year old veteran is known, blew .038. He had been out at the Whalers Hotel the previous night having, it seems, a whale of a time. Oliver said he quaffed a few glasses of wine. Patrons said he was into the gin-and-tonics.
The front page of Friday's Herald Sun certainly suggested he was holding an unusually shaped receptacle for wine. Also, ice cubes. Not very winey, those.
Oliver was stood down immediately and did not fulfil his Wednesday Warrnambool riding commitments, in line with the rules of racing. This is the latest career setback in the life of a jockey whom many racing insiders believe is lucky still to have a career.
That Oliver is a champion jockey is beyond question. He has won just about every big race on the calendar including three Melbourne Cups. The first was on Doriemus in 1995. The second was Media Puzzle in 2002. Famously, he won that race the week his brother Jason, who was also a jockey, died a in a fall. A nation was so moved, they made a movie about it.
Oliver's third Melbourne Cup came in 2013, aboard Gai Waterhouse's Fiorente. Many argued he was lucky to be riding in that race at all. Here's why.
Don't get the furore over Damien Oliver failing a breath test. It's not like he placed a bet on a rival horse— Alex Paull (@alex_paull) May 5, 2016
A year or so earlier, in a minor race in Melbourne, Oliver bet $10,000 on a horse. First things first, jockeys can't bet on any horse race, ever. Even one they're not riding in.
But Oliver was riding in the particular race in which he had his very naughty and very large bet. He was riding a horse called Europa Point. It did not win. Oliver bet on a horse called Miss Octopussy. Would it shock you to hear Miss Octopussy won?
Let's go through that again. Damien Oliver bet on a horse. NOT ALLOWED. He bet huge money. DEFINITELY NOT ALLOWED. He was riding a different horse in that race. SO NOT ALLOWED IT'S NOT FUNNY because it completely compromises the integrity of racing.
In many racing jurisdictions around the world, Oliver would have been rubbed out of the sport for good. He would also have faced criminal charges in many countries. In Australia? Ten months on the sidelines was the penalty. Ten months, then hey, have the keys to the Melbourne Cup winner.
Some trainers and owners still haven't forgiven Oliver and still won't let him near their horses. Others have let bygones be bygones.
The fact that Oliver was in the pub till 1am drinking the night before the races could rob him of tens of thousands in race earnings. Whether it proves detrimental to his future prospects remains to be seen.
But it's a definite career hiccup in every sense of the word.