Monday, July 15, 2013

Oliver aims to win respect

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Damien Oliver has 'a lot of bridges to mend'

Jockey Damien Oliver returns to the racetrack after being suspended for illegal betting, saying he's keen win back support of the racing community.

Disgraced jockey Damien Oliver says he has cut ties with punter and former friend Mark Hunter, feels sorry for trainer Robert Smerdon and is doing his utmost to restore his tarnished reputation as he returns from an eight-month suspension.

Oliver is not eligible to ride in a race for another two months, but returned to the saddle at trackwork on Monday. And he is hopeful that Thousand Guineas winner Commanding Jewel is the horse to return him to the spotlight for the right reasons this spring after he was reunited with the filly.

But more immediately he attempted to explain why he had breached the public's trust with his $11,000 bet on a rival horse.

Back in the saddle: Damien Oliver at Leon Corstens' facility at Romsey on Monday.

Back in the saddle: Damien Oliver at Leon Corstens' facility at Romsey on Monday. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

''There's no doubt my reputation has copped a bit of a whack and it's up to me to win that back,'' he said. ''It's up to me to prove that I can be accepted into that industry again.''

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But he defended claims his illegal bet had tarnished not only his reputation, but that of racing in general. ''In my experience, the overwhelming majority of people in racing are honest and hard-working,'' he said.

Oliver claimed the bet at Moonee Valley was the only one he had ever had and that he had never deliberately tried to lose a race. ''When I've ridden I've always ridden to get the best possible result for the owners and trainers and the people that ask me to do the job,'' he said. ''I'll continue to do that … the only way is to get back and ride winners.''

He said he felt sorry for Smerdon after learning the trainer had been slugged with a $10,000 fine for his role in the Miss Octopussy betting scandal. Smerdon was charged by Racing Victoria stewards and found guilty of inappropriate conduct for handing over Oliver's winnings as a favour to Hunter, and lost a VCAT appeal in June when trying to have the decision overturned. Oliver said the penalty was too harsh and Smerdon was unlucky to be caught in the crossfire.

''I thought Robert [Smerdon] was hardly done by. He virtually had nothing to do with it at all and I certainly feel sorry for Robert. I might be riding a lot of free trackwork for him and hopefully I can repay him with a few winners.''

Oliver said the Leon Corstens-trained filly Commanding Jewel was noticeably stronger heading into the new season and barely comparable to the light-framed filly that triumphed at Caulfield 12 months ago.

''It's great to be back and great to be back on such a nice one like Commanding Jewel. I haven't been on her since last spring but she's really developed and matured and it's just nice to be back on her.''


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