$1m reward ‘right amount’ to coax Samba murder info: police
Police hope that uncovering what slain former horse trainer Les Samba did in the five hours before he died will lead them to his murderer.
Samba was gunned down on Beaconsfield Parade in Middle Park in February last year.
As reported in The Age today, police are investigating a string of top Australian horse-racing figures, including champion jockey Danny Nikolic, for alleged race fixing after a suspected race fix involving a horse called Smoking Aces was uncovered during the probe into Samba’s murder.
The suspected racing corruption being investigated also involves money laundering, tax fraud and tipping, in which jockeys are paid secret commissions for giving punters inside information. Some of the alleged conduct under investigation may breach criminal laws or the rules of racing.
Racing figures suspected of involvement in the Smoking Aces affair are believed to have arranged for two jockeys to ride in a fashion that would reduce the race favourite’s chances of winning and boost Smoking Aces’ chances of success.
So serious is the alleged racing corruption that Victoria Police has moved the Samba probe to the Purana organised crime taskforce.
Nikolic, a leading jockey and Caulfield Cup winner, married Samba’s daughter, Victoria, in 2006. They had separated some time before Samba’s death. The Age is not suggesting Nikolic had any involvement in the murder.
Nikolic declined to answer questions about Smoking Aces and did not respond to a list of questions sent to his lawyer on Thursday evening.
Detective Senior Sergeant Stephen Cooper today confirmed that race fixing may have been a motive for Samba’s murder.
Detective Cooper said police had been unable to determine the movements of Samba during a five hour period in the two days before his death.
He said the $1 million reward announced today was the “right amount” to coax someone with information about the murder to come forward.
Police are investigating allegations of race fixing relating to a race in Cranbourne in April last year.
Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said the race fixing probe was only focused on the race featuring horse Smoking Aces and jockey Danny Nikolic.
“It’s one race in a huge industry, we need to keep that in perspective,” Mr Ashton said.
Racing Minister Denis Napthine said this afternoon that racing in Victoria was clean despite the suspected fixing only coming to light during a murder investigation.
“Police are saying they’re looking at one race out of many many thousands that are conducted in Victoria each year,” he said.
“I have every faith and belief that racing in Victoria is run at the highest level of integrity and it’s recognised around the world as one of the cleanest racing industries.”
Dr Napthine said Victoria Police alerted him last week about its investigation and that it was the first time race-fixing allegations had been brought to his attention since he became racing minister in late 2010.
He added that horse races were difficult to fix, with “an enormous amount of effort and co-operation”.
Dr Napthine later stormed away from reporters after being repeatedly asked if the Baillieu government had abandoned a pre-election commitment to ensure Hoddle Street killer Julian Knight remained behind bars for the rest of his life.
– with Nick McKenzie, Clay Hichens and Richard Baker.