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Top Men Give NHA Ultimatum

National Trainers Representative Body give Witts-Hewinson marching orders

I haven’t written a blog in a while, but the outcome on Thursday of the James Goodman prohibited substance case in which NHA attorney Jonathan Witts-Hewinson was all but officially reprimanded by a High Court Judge for his conduct and behaviour calls for comment, writes Mike de Kock on www.mikedekockracing.com

Mike de KockMike de Kock – has had enough of high-handed approach and undue interference

In my almost 30 years as a licensed trainer I have experienced the high-handed attitude of people like Witts-Hewinson and other NHA lawyers and stewards several times in my own medication charges.

Of late, we’ve even had to deal with Racing Control Executives who attempt to influence the results and  the penalties imposed by Inquiry Boards even before they’ve actually taken place, or before the process of inquiry has taken its due course.  In essence, you are as good as guilty before you walk into the inquiry room!

My own horses have been tested for substances around the world, in perhaps ten countries, and wherever I have gone I have experienced the perception that trainers are dishonest individuals or “dope artists” who couldn’t care less for the animal or the sport.

This is public perception stoked over many years by bad media reports that emanate from respective racing authorities who are all too eager to make themselves look good and to justify their existence at the expense of the reputation of trainers and jockeys and, ultimately, at the expense of the industry.

Just recently, for example, Australia’s chief stipe Terry Bailey, his country’s self-proclaimed one-man mission into “cleaning up racing”, was castigated in the press for dishonest, self-serving conduct.

In my view, 99% of trainers are honest horsemen with no drug agendas. But to err is human. We, they, all make mistakes. I presently have 170 horses in my own yard, among them are sick horses and sore horses who need treatment and medication. There is always a chance of slipping, and invariably charges result from veterinary errors.

However, by NHA rules, which the majority of trainers don’t agree with as they are, all the NHA has to do is to prove that the accused party is the trainer of the horse in which a positive sample was found. By virtue of the fact that he or she is a licensed trainer, such trainer is guilty. Period.  Until now, we have been unable to do anything about it. We’ve signed under duress to accept archaic, draconian rules.

We’ve had no choice but to give Witts-Hewinson and company the right to treat us in an arbitrary manner!

In the case of James Goodman, it is commonly known that the prohibited substance, caffeine, is found in certain feeds and therefore contamination is a real issue with this particular substance. I am not fully aware of the facts, but if James’ expert witness, Dr Tobin, had been allowed to testify and interview Dr Schalk de Kock, who knows what would have emerged. Goodman may just have won his case on pure factual merits alone. But this is something Mr Witts-Hewinson refused to allow in a way that was unconstitutional and as the judge pointed out, “manifestly procedurally unfair”.

James Goodman

There are major costs involved for the NHA and its opposing parties in every case brought before them – a number of cases are driven to their limits of time by greedy lawyers and on both sides. How about a plea-bargain system when guilt is accepted, the mitigating factors considered and agreed fines paid on the spot to prevent cases from dragging on for years?

I can only hope that the NHA, under the refreshing leadership of Lyndon Barends, will not only take appropriate action against their lawmen involved, but will institute significant, constitutionally aligned changes in the interest of fairness. Fairness is all we want!

Robert BloombergRobert Bloomberg

Attorney Robert Bloomberg, writing about the Goodman case, takes the rest of this blog with a piece of exceptional writing, succinctly commenting on what has transpired and what needs to be done.

“The chickens have finally come home to roost!

“For decades, and whilst serving as a Director on the Board of the National Horseracing Authority (“NHA”) and previously as Chairman, Jonathan Witts-Hewinson has been in the forefront of legal matters being a practising attorney. During his tenure, he happily supported the debatable expertise and dubious advices of NHA attorney, Nic Roodt. They have previously run roughshod over many in dictatorial fashion whilst on occasion hiding behind numerous manifestly unfair Rules that ordinarily would not pass muster at the Constitutional Court.

“In my opinion, he has always viewed the NHA as tantamount to a private boy’s club and pretty much believed that they, the NHA, were untouchable as the supreme authority in horseracing. This was particularly prevalent in the Rob de Kock and Denzil Pillay era. There have been many instances in the past and in recent times where the “reasonable man” test in respect of perceived bias and subsequent recusal in relevant instances has been flagrantly ignored by him and the NHA. Thanks to the tenacity of James Goodman and despite the financial consequences, their conduct was finally challenged.

In addition, we can also no longer tolerate undue influence and pressure being brought to bear by the Racing Control Executive on NHA legal representatives and personally hand-picked Inquiry Boards in advance of hearings particularly in regard to recommended penalties. There cannot be seen to be interference in the judicial process as this amounts to exactly what has transpired herein.

“This is a watershed moment in the industry as this cannot happen again and must lead to independent Inquiry and Review Boards in the future. This judgment is an acute embarrassment and a serious indictment on both Witts-Hewinson and the NHA. For a judge to say that the “potentially conflicting” positions occupied by Witts-Hewinson was “unassailable” and that “proceedings conducted by him were manifestly procedurally unfair” and that “there was no structure whatsoever to the proceedings” and further that when Goodman’s expert witness, Professor Tobin, “testified he was denied the opportunity of questioning the specialist chemist (Schalk De Kock) employed by the NHA” is about as bad as it gets.

“We don’t care if he falls on his own sword, or the NHA ceases to utilize his services, but certainly as legal representative for the National Trainers Representative Body, we will no longer recognize or accept Witts-Hewinson in any capacity should he continue to serve on the panel of the NHA Inquiry Board, Appeal Board and Inquiry Review Boards.”

Thanks to www.mikedekockracing.com

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7 comments on “Top Men Give NHA Ultimatum”

  1. Harsh words from Mr Bloomberg. Did he not resign as a director of the NHRA because he lost an election to Mr Witts Hewinson in 2010 to be chairman of the NHRA?

    Given the manner in which Mr Bloomberg writes, he makes no friends. He loves himself and the limelight. You can be a straight talker but you also need to show humility and diplomacy. It makes no difference whether you are a legal expert or not.

    Yes, Mr Witts Hewinson made a hash of things. He is human and he should pay the consequences. There is no need to belittle and humiliate him. Kicking someone when they are down shows the true person that wears those shoes.

    Criticism is a two way street. I see that Mr Bloomberg was on the NHRA rules committee and was involved in preparing its guidelines. That means he has inside knowledge of the NHRA. Has he ever acted for the NHRA or been paid by it for legal services or given free legal advice to it? If yes and if the NHRA wants to be fair it could consider making a new rule stopping anyone who has held any position in the NHRA from acting against it. If Mr Witts Hewinson had a conflict why doesn’t Mr Bloomberg have one each time he represents someone against the NHRA?

  2. The dog must wag the tail, not the other way around. Horses do not become positive by accident and if they need medication they should not race.

  3. The NHA needs drastic restructuring in its thinking, it is an archaic system which is doing no good to our industry. I totally support what Mike de Kock had to say and congratulate James Goodman and his legal team for a job well done!! The time has come for the NHA to treat the trainers with more respect and stop their autocratic and undemocratic approach towards them.

  4. Revenge is a dish best served cold it is said. You have got to give it to the ringer, he must be enjoying his meal after all this time. The comments he made about the legal abilities of JWT to me a decade ago hold a lot more water after this embarrassment and he should do the honourable thing and resign with immediate effect. Once again another example of a NHA member thinking that they are bigger than the game.

    I have a personal favourite, uttered by JWT in a response to a question why the stipes were so inept in their responsibilities and tabled at the 2015 NHA AGM – “Mr Reid cited concerns over a number of racing control issues. He asserted that our Stipes do not object as often as they should, showing that international jurisdictions reflected much higher numbers. Mr Witts-Hewinson explained that the publication of high numbers of objections may lead to the perception that the sport isn’t clean, which had led to the ‘Admission of Guilt’ system instead.”

    Well those chickens have come home to roost haven’t they?

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