Racing Victoria integrity commissioner, Sean Carroll, opens Aquanita books to ensure cheats caught in future

“It’s ‘how can Racing Victoria improve’, or any code for that matter,” he said.

“How can any of the three racing codes ensure that people aren’t getting away with essentially cheating?”

Making his mark

The Office of the Racing Integrity Commissioner has seen an 880 per cent increase in the number of inquiries and complaints received, compared with the 12 months before Carroll’s arrival.

The experienced integrity executive has not hidden from the public spotlight, nor from the tough issues. He was quick to investigate what went wrong with Racing Victoria’s bungled stomach-tubing case against Richard Laming, dropped by prosecutors after steward Dion Villella deliberately contacted a fellow tribunal witness on three separate occasions against tribunal orders.

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In his report, he put Racing Victoria on notice regarding its employment and internal investigations policies and minimum standards of education, while also suggesting Racing Victoria consider laying charges against Villella under the rules of racing for conduct detrimental to the sport’s image.

Racing Victoria adopted most of Carroll’s recommendations, but decided a demotion from Villella’s managerial position was significant punishment.

“That’s the discretion Racing Victoria has,” Carroll said.

“I stand by my recommendations.

“They certainly argue they have dealt with the matter of that particular component under his employment position, and I acknowledge that. I think it’s something we need to continue to evaluate.”

But Carroll is confident Racing Victoria’s integrity processors are stronger after the probe.

“I’m big on the fact that through every crisis lies great opportunity, in fact, I have that written in my book here,” he said.

“They’re great learning opportunities for Racing Victoria and for any of the inquiries we’ve helped the codes with.”

Welfare front and center

While animal welfare will forever be a key issue when it comes to integrity in the three racing codes, Carroll has determined in his opening 12 months that participant welfare is as significant – if not more important – as a priority going forward.

One part of that includes the lengthy waits participants face following positive samples to prohibited substances, with some cases taking years to be heard, tarnishing reputations and impacting on individuals’ mental health meanwhile, only to be thrown out or result in minor penalties.

“You look at law enforcement, for example, where they have mention briefs that people can plead guilty at the first option,” Carroll said.

“Look at the AFL, for example, where they have set penalties for certain issues, and can we introduce something like that?

“I’m not saying that’s the answer. But is the process we had five or 10 years ago the same we should have today, or can we improve?

“I’ve spoken to Giles Thompson about this and I know this is a priority for Racing Victoria, and how they can improve their processes of pre-preparation and bringing matters before the VRT [Victorian Racing Tribunal]†

Changes will be made at the Exhibition St building, which hosts not only the tribunal but Carroll’s workplace. He is looking at reducing the size of his corner-facing office and opening it up to increase his accessibility.

Racing Victoria CEO Giles Thompson.Credit:Reg Ryan, Getty Images

“Racing is an issues-rich environment,” he said.

“I’ve really made an effort to be more public-facing with what I do, whether it’s going to race meetings, stables or kennels.

“We need to be better at how we manage our complaints. We need to make it less confusing for the public or participants.

“My concern now is, is the integrity process that was put in place in 2018, the same that is required in 2022? That’s the challenge for us in the racing industry, to make sure we’re continually evolving.

“I’ve got great confidence in all three integrity units and the people who run them, but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t improve.”

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