No longer will Snitzel be this guys legacy.
Jockey Danny Nikolic alleged victim of historical sexual assault by top trainer
Cameron Houston, Chris Johnston, Chris Vedelago
Published: October 20, 2016 - 11:45PM
Controversial jockey Danny Nikolic was allegedly sexually assaulted by racehorse trainer Gerald Ryan more than 20 years ago when they worked at stables owned by racing identity David Moodie, who was appointed chairman of Racing Victoria last year.
Mr Nikolic has given written permission for Fairfax Media to identify him as the victim of the alleged assault – an open secret among many in the racing fraternity – which is said to have taken place just days before the Golden Slipper Stakes in Sydney in March 1996.
Mr Ryan has been implicated in a string of assaults on young jockeys and stablehands at Mr Moodie's Hobson's Lodge, but has never been charged by police or sanctioned by racing authorities.
He continues to train more than 100 horses at bases on the Gold Coast and Rosehill in Sydney.
A former jockey himself, Mr Ryan declined to make any comment on Thursday.
The new revelations involving Mr Nikolic are expected to cause further turmoil in the "sport of kings", which is already reeling from a probity investigation into Mr Moodie, announced on the eve of last weekend's Caulfield Cup.
This week, Mr Nikolic and his legal team completed their appeal to overturn a four-year ban from riding in Victoria's Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
At no stage during the three-week hearing did Mr Nikolic's lawyers raise the explosive claims of sexual abuse to explain or mitigate the behaviour that prompted Racing Victoria to cancel his licence.
While Mr Nikolic opted not to make any comment about the 1996 incident, sources close to the former jockey said he was allegedly assaulted by Mr Ryan after falling asleep in a Sydney apartment.
Mr Nikolic, who was 22, awoke and grabbed Mr Ryan by the neck and threw him against a wall. Other Hobson's Lodge staff sleeping in adjoining apartments were woken by the commotion.
A source close to Mr Nikolic said he was not "overly emotionally traumatised or scarred by the incident" and never made a complaint to police.
Mr Nikolic is believed to have informed Mr Moodie and Victorian Racing Club stewards of the alleged attack, but with his riding career about to take off, he wanted to avoid a scandal.
"Gerald Ryan was a popular racing figure with a quiet and likeable nature," one source said.
"He made a lot of people plenty of money with his prodigious horse training talents. And we all know what a powerful motivator money is."
Following a string of accusations against Mr Ryan, Mr Moodie called a meeting of all staff at Hobson's Lodge in April 1996.
According to reports at the time, Mr Moodie asked if anyone had been sexually harassed – and more than half of the 22 employees raised their hands.
Within days of the meeting, Mr Ryan went on a month's leave from Hobson's Lodge, while an investigation was launched by stewards from the VRC, which was responsible for oversight of the sport in Victoria at the time.
Racing Victoria assumed control of the integrity of the sport in this state in 2001.
More than 30 people were interviewed by VRC stewards, including 22 stablehands, six jockeys, three apprentice jockeys, and an owner believed to be Mr Moodie.
The VRC informed Mr Ryan that he would have to "show cause" as to why he should keep his trainer's licence, at a hearing on June 6, 1996.
On June 3 – just three days before he was due to defend the serious accusations – Mr Ryan handed back his licence to the VRC. At the time, he was Victoria's leading trainer, but did not explain his shock departure.
He is understood to have trained horses in Malaysia for a stint, before returning to Australia in 1997 and establishing a base on the Gold Coast.
Several alleged victims and their families are scathing of the racing industry's handling of the sexual abuse allegations, and some say the allegations may explain Mr Nikolic's fiery attitude toward the racing establishment.
'Who'd believe me'
Gail Goring, the mother of former jockey Mark Goring, says her son was routinely groped by Mr Ryan as a 15-year-old apprentice.
She says the VRC and Mr Moodie should have done more to protect staff at Hobson's Lodge from the trainer's predatory behaviour.
Mrs Goring said her son was one of several jockeys to provide a victim impact statement to the VRC but he never reported the assaults to police because of fears it would damage his career prospects.
"When this matter came to a head, I asked Mark why he hadn't said anything. His answer was 'who's going to believe me against Gerald Ryan?' "
In August 1997, Mrs Goring sent a letter to the VRC pleading with them to never issue Mr Ryan with another licence in Victoria.
"Inspector Mark Flanagan of the vice squad, racing division, advised Mark to press charges because he was a minor at the time.
"Mark declined to do so because he thought the immense interest and publicity could be detrimental to his career," Mrs Goring said in the letter.
At the time, Mrs Goring says, she was given an assurance from former chief steward Des Gleeson that Ryan would never work in Victoria on his watch.
In 2003, Mark Goring was killed in a race fall at Tatura.
For the past two decades, Mr Ryan has stayed north of the border and enhanced his reputation as one of the nation's finest trainers.
He's won the Brisbane trainers' premiership and finished in the top 10 of the Sydney trainers' premiership in six out of the past seven years.
While he attended Melbourne races, the 61-year-old never had a permanent base in his home town.
But last December, Mr Ryan told Fairfax Media he was thinking about setting up a satellite stable in Melbourne.
"I'm 60 though, and I've got to think about that, but I never go into these things half-hearted. It's a lot of work and it would take time to build the Melbourne business," Mr Ryan said.
Despite fleeing the state in 1996 without facing his accusers, Mr Ryan's plan to return to Melbourne was endorsed by Mr Moodie, who was appointed chairman of Racing Victoria in May last year.
"We enjoyed some sensational success in those times. He's a wonderful horseman who's a hard worker and I'm sure if he had some presence in Melbourne I would support him," Mr Moodie said in December last year.
As recently as October 2009, Victoria Police continued to receive sworn statements about Mr Ryan's alleged historical offending.
Spiralling out of control
Former jockey Jamie Evans told police he was working as an apprentice from 1986 until 1988 at the Epsom training centre in Mordialloc to trainer Kath Smith, whom he was boarding with.
In 1986, while riding at Geelong racecourse, he was injured by a horse and took twopowerful pain medication tablets.
"I became very drowsy after about 20 minutes," he said.
At the time, Gerald Ryan was a fellow jockey, but much older than Mr Evans, who was 17 at the time.
"I looked up to him, he was like a mentor to me."
Driving home with Mr Ryan, Mr Evans said, he fell asleep in the front passenger seat but woke up at the training centre in Mordialloc to find Mr Ryan performing oral sex on him in the car.
He told police he ran from the car onto the street, hailed a taxi and went to Mrs Smith's house, but didn't tell her what had happened.
"From that day onwards I started drinking heavily, started taking pills to numb the embarrassment ... my life started to spiral out of control," Mr Evans said.
Then, Mr Evans said, in 1996, with Mr Ryan now a trainer, his friend and fellow jockey Danny Nikolic told him Mr Ryan had sexually abused him after he had fallen asleep.
Mr Evans told police that a stewards' inquiry was opened after a media report about allegations against Mr Ryan and a meeting was held between Mr Nikolic, Mr Moodie, and a group of stewards.
"Danny told me Gerald Ryan walked into the conference, threw his hands in the air and said: 'I can't help it, I like blokes'."
Racing Victoria CEO Bernard Saundry said the current governing body was only constituted in 2001, so could not comment on what processes were taken in the mid-1990's by the state's then-administrative body.
"Racing Victoria takes any allegations of sexual assault or any criminal activity with the utmost seriousness," he said.
"If any allegation of criminal activity is brought before Racing Victoria it is standard procedure that the matter is referred to Victoria Police."
Mr Moodie and Victoria Police did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Thursday.
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