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Non Raceday Inquiry RIU v NC Rasmussen - Decision dated 18 December 2015 - Chair, Prof G Hall

Created on 21 December 2015

BEFORE A JUDICIAL COMMITTEE OF

THE JUDICIAL CONTROL AUTHORITY

UNDER THE RACING ACT 2003

AND IN THE MATTER of the New Zealand Rules of Harness Racing

BETWEEN RACING INTEGRITY UNIT (RIU)

Informant

AND NATALIE CLAIR RASMUSSEN

Open Horsewoman

Respondent

Information: A4815

Judicial Committee: Prof G Hall, Chairman - Mr R McKenzie, Member

Appearing: Mr B Kitto, for the Informant

The Respondent in person

Date of hearing: 15 December 2015

DECISION OF JUDICIAL COMMITTEE

[1] The Respondent, Ms Natalie Rasmussen, is the holder of an Open Horsewoman’s licence and a Public Trainer’s licence under the Rules of Harness Racing.

[2] Ms Rasmussen has admitted three charges. These charges are:

“Charge No 1: On Tuesday the 10th November, 2015, at the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club Inc race meeting, held at Addington Raceway, being a horseman (Open Driver) did bet on a horse, namely SMOLDA in a race, namely Race 10, The Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup, in which race you drove the horse MESSINI having placed a futures option win bet on the 23rd October, 2015, for $200 @ $4.00 on SMOLDA in breach of Rule 505(1) and (2) which is declared to be a serious racing offence and you are therefore liable to the penalties which may be imposed in accordance with Rule 1001(2)(a)(b) and (c) of the New Zealand Rules of Harness Racing.

Charge No 2: On Tuesday the 10th November, 2015, at the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club Inc. race meeting, held at Addington Raceway, being a horseman (Open Driver) did accept and drive the horse MESSINI in race 10, The Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup, having placed a future option win bet on the 23rd October, 2015, for $200 @ $4.00 on SMOLDA without the approval of a Stipendiary Steward in breach of Rule 505(3) and you are therefore liable to the penalty or penalties which may be imposed in accordance with Rule 1003(1)(a) (b) and (c) of the New Zealand Rules of Harness Racing.

Charge No 3: On Tuesday the 10th November, 2015, at the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club Inc race meeting, held at Addington Raceway, being a horseman (Open Driver) did bet on a horse, CHASE THE DREAM in a race, namely Race 7, the NRM Sires Stakes Series 32 Three year old final, in which you drove the said horse CHASE THE DREAM having placed a final field win bet of $100 @ $7.00 on the 8th November, 2015, in breach of Rule 505(1) and (2) which is declared to be a serious racing offence and you are therefore liable to the penalty or penalties which may be imposed in accordance with Rule 1001(2)(a)(b) and (c) of the New Zealand Rules of Harness Racing.”

[3] The relevant rules are:

505(1) A horse[wo]man may not bet on any horse or combination of horses in a race, in which he or she is driving;

(2) A breach of this sub-rule (1) is declared to be a serious racing offence;

(3) After placing a bet on a horse or combination of horses in a race, a horse[wo]man my not accept a drive in that race without the approval of a Stipendiary Steward

1001(2) Every person who commits a serious racing offence shall be liable to the following penalties:

(a) a fine not exceeding $30,000; and/or

(b) suspension from holding or obtaining a licence, for any specific period or for life; and/or

(c) disqualification for a specific period or for life.

1003(1) A person who commits a breach of any Rule shall (subject to the provisions of r 111(1), 113(5), 451(3), 507(3), 1001 or 1004 hereof) shall be liable to the following penalties:

(a) a fine not exceeding $10,000.00; and/or

(b) suspension from holding or obtaining a licence for a period not exceeding 12 months; and/or

(c) disqualification for a period not exceeding 12 months.

[4] Mr Kitto produced written authorisation from Mr M Godber, the General Manager of the RIU, pursuant to r 1103(4)(c), dated 1 December 2015, giving permission to file an information alleging breaches of the NZ Rules of Harness Racing under rr 505(1) (two charges) and 505(3) (one charge).

[5] There was an agreed summary of facts, which we summarise here.

[6] The Respondent drove at the Methven Trotting Club's race meeting on 18 October 2015 and, as the result of a racing incident, she received injuries, which required her to receive a medical clearance before resuming race day driving.

[7] Ms Rasmussen operates a TAB telephone account. On 23 October 2015 at 13.01 hrs she placed, via her mobile phone, a futures option Christchurch Casino NZ Trotting Cup bet for [email protected] $4.00 on the horse SMOLDA to win. The RIU accepts that at that time she believed she would not be able to drive at the NZ Metropolitan Cup day meeting on 10 November 2015.

[8] However, on 5 November 2015 Ms Rasmussen received a medical clearance for race driving.

[9] When driver notifications closed at 11 am on 7 November 2015 for the NZ Metropolitan Cup day meeting of 10 November 2015, Ms Rasmussen was the notified driver for MESSINI in Race 10, The Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup and CHASE THE DREAM in Race 7, The NRM Sires Stakes Series No 32 final.

[10] On 8 November 2015 at 11.07 hrs she placed, via her mobile phone, a Final Field win bet of [email protected] $7.00 on CHASE THE DREAM in Race 7.

[11] Ms Rasmussen's win bet in the Cup race on SMOLDA was unsuccessful, with SMOLDA running 2nd. Ms Rasmussen was not permitted to bet on SMOLDA as she was driving MESSINI in the same race.

[12] Ms Rasmussen ran 5th with MESSINI. Having placed the bet on SMOLDA and driving MESSINI in the same race, she was not allowed to accept the drive on MESSINI without the approval of a Stipendiary Steward. No such approval was requested.

[13] Ms Rasmussen was not permitted to place the bet on CHASE THE DREAM, as she could not bet on any horse in either of the races in which she drove. Her win bet was unsuccessful.

[14] Ms Rasmussen was interviewed at 11.58 am on 12 November 2015. She was described by Mr Kitto as being “absolutely upfront and honest admitting placing the two bets and failing to obtain approval from a Stipendiary Steward to drive MESSINI as required.”

[15] Mr Kitto stated that Ms Rasmussen appeared to be unclear as to what the Rules stated in relation to betting by drivers, but when read the relevant rules, she said that she had clearly breached them.

[16] Ms Rasmussen told this Committee that she had broken her elbow in a race smash at Methven and was intending to go to Queensland for a few weeks while it healed. She emphasised at the time she placed the futures bet on SMOLDA she expected she would be out of the country when the race was run. However, Mr Purdon, with whom she co-trained, had asked her to stay and help with the team as it was a busy time. Her elbow healed much faster than anyone had anticipated and thus she was able to take drives in Cup week.

[17] With respect to the 3rd charge, the Respondent said she was unaware of the change to the Rules and believed she was entitled to bet on CHASE THE DREAM.

[18] As to the 1st and 2nd charges, Ms Rasmussen stated she had not given any thought to the fact that she had placed a bet on SMOLDA and was unaware anyway that she need the approval of the Stipendiary Stewards before driving MESSINI.

[19] Ms Rasmussen stated she was an irregular bettor and had recently received a letter from the TAB stating her account would be closed due to inactivity. It was this reason that she “never gave it [her bet on SMOLDA] another thought” when she accepted the drive on MESSINI. She said the bet was not of interest to her and it had not led her to change her driving tactics. She said it was “all go” for Cup week. Both horses “were there to win”.

[20] We questioned Mr Kitto as to what activity the RIU had detected on the Respondent’s account. He stated it was a “very quiet account” and there were “no other issues”.

[21] With respect to charge 2, we questioned Mr Kitto as to what action the RIU could have taken had the Respondent notified them that she had placed a futures bet on SMOLDA. Mr Kitto stated that a Stipendiary Steward would be better placed to answer this and Mr McIntyre, Co-chief Stipendiary Steward, explained that there were mechanisms in place for the TAB to be able to cancel the bet. Alternatively, the Stewards would have removed Ms Rasmussen from the horse.

Submissions as to penalty

[22] Mr Kitto stated that the drives of Ms Rasmussen had been reviewed by the Stipendiary Stewards and Mr McIntyre reported: "Having viewed the races in question believe Ms Rasmussen drove within the bounds of the Rules and left no reason for question as to the integrity of her driving in both races."

[23] Mr Kitto said the RIU accepted the Respondent’s statement that after being injured at the Methven Trotting Club’s meeting on 18 October 2015, she thought she was out of race day driving until well after Cup week in November 2015 and, relevantly, when she placed the bet on SMOLDA on 23 October 2015, she thought she would not be driving on Cup day.

[24] The RIU submitted “[t]here has been no malice or any intent to deceive in her offending and nothing sinister should or can be read into what has occurred. The offending may have occurred by her lack of understanding of the rule and her injury ruling her out of driving, may have affected her thinking.”

[25] Ms Rasmussen’s record was clear with respect to the betting rules. Mr Kitto observed she had admitted the breach at the earliest opportunity and had consented to this matter being heard on a race day or "on the papers" to reduce costs. (We add here that this Committee determined that because two of the charges were serious racing offences the matter should be set down for a formal hearing.)

[26] The RIU observed that the betting Rules had undergone reviews and changes over the years and the current rule came into effect on 1 April 2014. In simple terms now, if a horsewoman is driving in a race she cannot bet on any horse or combination of horses in that race. Ms Rasmussen said to Mr Kitto that she had not read any of the cases where drivers had been found to be in breach of the betting rules.

[27] The RIU accepted that Ms Rasmussen was extremely remorseful and was cross with herself that this situation had occurred. It was to her credit, Mr Kitto said, that she accepted liability without equivocation.

[28] The RIU submitted a monetary penalty within a range of $1000 to $2000, in totality, was appropriate for the three offences.

[29] In support of the penalty application Mr Kitto referred this Committee to previous HRNZ driver betting prosecutions:

HRNZ v Donald (15/10/2009) - fined $1500 for 4 charges.

RIU v Jones (03/03/2013) - betting on Drivers Challenge - fined $500 - 1 charge.

RIU v Bull (05/06/2013) (appeal 04111/2013) - disqualified 1 year - 3 charges.

RIU v Kerr (11/01/2015) fined $650.00 - 1 charge.

RIU v O'Connell (02/09/2015) - 4 months’ suspension - 1 charge.

[30] It was agreed after discussion with this Committee that the case of Bull was not of assistance. It was noted that Jones was a case of a driver betting on himself and O'Connell and Kerr were both cases where the bets were on the horse the respective respondents had driven. Donald involved combination bets including the horse Donald drove, together with other horses.

[31] The RIU made no application for costs.

[32] Ms Rasmussen reiterated that when she placed the futures bet on SMOLDA she was not going to be in New Zealand when the race was run.

[33] Had she been aware of the Rules, Ms Rasmussen said, she would have gone to the Stewards and sought permission to drive MESSINI. She now was aware the Stewards had the ability to remove the bet. She emphasised she was not a regular bettor and it had never occurred to her to approach the Stewards.

[34] Ms Rasmussen emphasised the fact that she was unaware of the change to the Rules in 2014, which prohibited betting on the horse a horse[wo]man was driving.

[35] Ms Rasmussen stated she was very disappointed in herself. She emphasised that the All Stars Racing Stables prided themselves on the integrity and professionalism of their operation. She had never previous been charged with anything relating to betting. She was an irregular punter and most of her bets would usually be placed be on “a girls’ day out at the races”.

Decision

[36] The Respondent is the holder of an Open Drivers Licence and is in a training partnership with Mr M Purdon under the New Zealand Rules of Harness Racing.

[37] Ms Rasmussen has admitted three breaches of the Rules, two charges against r 505(1) and one against 505(3). Pursuant to r 1111(d) we find these charges proved.

[38] Charges 1 and 3 are serious racing offences and attract maximum penalties of a fine of $30,000 and/or suspension and/or disqualification for life. The maximum penalty for charge 2 is a fine of $10,000 and/or suspension and/or disqualification for 12 months.

[39] The RIU seek a penalty of between $1000 and $2000, in total, for the three breaches. While we accept there are strong mitigating factors, we believe a penalty at this level fails to recognise the seriousness of these breaches.

[40] We are required to address the need for general deterrence and to hold Ms Rasmussen accountable. We do not emphasise specific deterrence, as it is very clear to this Committee that Ms Rasmussen is extremely remorseful and, indeed highly embarrassed, by her actions.

[41] We also make reference to r 1114(2) which states:

In imposing a penalty or affecting any remedy provided in these Rules the Judicial Committee may have regard to such matters as they consider appropriate including:

(a) the status of race;

(b) the stake payable in respect of the race;

(c) any consequential effects upon any person or horse as a result of breach of the Rule;

(d) the need to maintain integrity and public confidence in Harness Racing.

Charges 1 and 2

[42] Charge 1 is the most serious because it involved the Respondent betting on one horse and driving another in the race. The integrity of racing is thus clearly called into question and the race at issue, could hardly be a more significant race on the New Zealand Harness calendar, with it being the New Zealand Cup.

[43] Having determined that the breach is serious, it is important that we assess the Respondent’s culpability. A significant mitigating fact is that when the futures bet was placed Ms Rasmussen was not only not intending to drive in the race, she was not going to be at the meeting as she was planning to have some time in Queensland while her elbow healed. We accept, as does the RIU, that the healing process was much quicker than she had expected. The result was that she was able to drive on Cup day.

[44] There is no suggestion that the Respondent has in any way driven improperly in the race. In addition, her actions are in essence an oversight on her part. The unchallenged evidence is to the effect that Ms Rasmussen is an irregular bettor and had overlooked the fact the she had placed a futures bet on SMOLDA when she accepted a drive on MESSINI. In addition, she was unaware of the need to approach the Stipendiary Stewards as provided by r 505(3). Ignorance of this rule is no excuse of course, but it does help to place this breach in context.

[45] Charges 1 and 2 relate to the Respondent’s action and omission in the one race and concurrent penalties are appropriate.

[46] Ms Rasmussen is fined $3000 on charge 1 and a concurrent fine of $1000 is imposed on charge 2 (which is not a serious racing offence).

Charge 3

[47] We are satisfied that the Respondent has acted in ignorance of the recent amendment to the Rules. She did not deliberately breach r 505(1) by betting on the horse that she was driving. Again, ignorance of the law is no excuse, hence her admission of the breach. However, this is the context in which we come to determine penalty for this charge. There is no suggestion that the Respondent had “set” CHASE THE DREAM for this race and this would thus be a betting “coup” on her part, or that her driving of the horse on this occasion has drawn the suspicion of the RIU.

[48] We have to hold the Respondent, who is a very experienced and successful horsewoman, accountable for her omission to keep abreast of the Rules of Harness Racing, which has led her to be in breach of this rule. With respect to this breach we can obtain assistance from a number of recent decisions. Fines of $500 and $650 were imposed on drivers Jones and Kerr where the circumstances of the breach were similar to those before us (although we note the amendment to the Rules had been in force for a shorter period of time — less than a year — in the Kerr case). We are obliged to add that the mitigating effect of a plea “I was ignorant of the change to the Rules” is starting to lose any force that it might have had. The amendment to the Rules was over 18 months ago. This is clearly more than sufficient time for drivers to become acquainted with the rule.

[49] Charge 3 relates to a different race than that encompassed by charges 1 and 2, although it again was raced on 10 November. The bet on the Stakes race was also placed on a different day to the bet on the Cup. A cumulative penalty is appropriate. We have had regard to Jones, Kerr and O’Connell (where the four month penalty was in effect 15 drives and thus equated to a fine of $750), and impose a fine of $750.

Outcome

[50] We have had regard to the totality of the penalties imposed and are satisfied that the final penalty of a fine of $3750 is not excessive. In so determining, we have had regard to the fact that r 505(2) declares a breach of r 505(1) to be a serious racing offence.

[51] The RIU do not seek costs.

[52] A contribution to the costs of the JCA is both just and reasonable in the circumstances of this case. The respondent is to pay costs of $350 to the JCA.

Dated at Dunedin this 18th day of December 2015.

Geoff Hall, Chairman

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