In a trembling voice and with tears in his eyes, Damien Oliver set out to salvage what he could of his career, his dignity and his reputation on Tuesday.
To an extent, he succeeded.
The career of one of Australia’s most successful jockeys of the past 25 years was put on hold by stewards for 10 months, but it will be resumed.
His dignity, too, has survived.
But the reputation he built with skill and courage on the back of a few thousand horses, and which he trashed with a single bet, still needs repairing.
Oliver has the next 10 months to think about a life that has taken some beatings and which for the past few weeks has been swinging in the breeze.
Oliver began his testimony by stating the obvious.
“I am a jockey,” he told the stewards who heard his case.
“I have been riding horses since 1988.”
Then, for the next five minutes, he revealed what wasn’t so widely known.
He spoke of a drinking problem, of how he had sunk to a low point when his wife took their three children and left him and of how he had suffered severe psychological problems.
He said it was worst period in his life.
Worse than dealing with the death of the older brother he buried the day after winning the 2002 Melbourne Cup on Media Puzzle, worse than the race fall that almost crippled him in 2005 and worse than wondering about his father who had also died in a racing accident before his son knew him.
“My wife took the children with her to Warrnambool …. I was living alone, I had a great sense of loss, it took away my self-belief …. everything,” Oliver said.
For Oliver the betting scandal he instigated by placing $10,000 on a rival horse in a race at Moonee Valley in 2010 has led him to focus on his achievements as well as his fallibility.
The two Melbourne Cups, the four Caulfield Cups, two Cox Plates, a Golden Slipper, eight Melbourne jockey’s titles and six Scobie Breasley medals for Victoria’s best rider – all of them are bound to be recalled and pondered.
Oliver has ridden winners around the world and in every state of Australia.
He came to Melbourne from Perth as a 16-year-old in 1989 to be apprenticed to Lee Freedman, the man who trained the horse he rode in the “bet race” at Moonee Valley in October 2010.
He was already the leading rider in Perth as an apprentice and the year after he came to Melbourne he was number one.
Until the latest incident, Oliver’s career was untainted by scandal or serious indiscretion.
“I want people to know,” he said on Tuesday, “that while I have admitted to this serious breach and can offer no excuses, I have never, ever, in my 24 years of racing, not tried my hardest to win when I am on the back of a horse.”
He may have to work hard to convince everyone of the truth of that assurance.
Hopefully he will remember it when he resumes race riding next September.
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