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April, 2019

‘Una Bomba’ Francesca Chaouqui points finger at Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell makes a statement on Thursday following a meeting with survivors of sex abuse. Cardinal George Pell’s handwritten statement. Photo: Nick Miller
Nanjing Night Net

Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to reporters as he leaves the Quirinale hotel after meeting with survivors of sex abuse.

Francesca Chaouqui also called “Lady Vatican” at home in Rome on Tuesday. Photo: Marco Di Lauro

Public relations expert and former member of the special commission on economic reforms of the Vatican Francesca Chaouqui arrives at the “Vatileaks 2.0” trial session at the Vatican on December 7, 2015. Photo: Theresa Ambrose

Chaouqui is shown in her Facebook profile photo; Lucio Balda is shown in a YouTube video. Photo: Facebook, YouTube.

Cardinal George Pell giving evidence this week: “this was the real Pell being slowly revealed”.

Vatican critic has harsh words for PellResigning would be admission of guilt: Pell

“Did you meet with the Pope today? What did the Pope say?” asked a TV journalist, as Cardinal George Pell brushed past him with a little wave to the cameras, stepping into Rome’s Hotel Quirinale.

“I’ve got the full backing of the Pope,” Pell replied.

It was an odd reply: not quite an answer to the question posed. Of all the things the Pope may have said about an inquiry into historical abuse by Catholic priests in Australia, or the finances of the Vatican, this comment came first to the cardinal’s mind.

It spoke volumes.

And it was the first sign that on this, the second of four gruelling night-owl sessions of examination over video by Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Pell would be playing some bad defence.

This was the night of his soon-notorious comment about paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, “it’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me … I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated” – a statement he desperately tried to row back later in the week, arguing he was confused about the context and misspoke.

This was the night he claimed no recollection of a meeting in which a paedophilic priest’s reassignment was discussed, “except to the effect that paedophilia was never mentioned”, a remarkable feat of memory.

This was the night he tried to excuse why a priest might not go beyond his job description to ensure the safety of children from abusers: “because [when] something is wrong, you can’t wave a magic wand and correct the situation easily”.

He even quibbled when asked “are you suggesting that a priest, who has knowledge of an abuse of a child but has no responsibility under canon law, is entitled … to do nothing?”

“Well … ,” began the cardinal.

Following Pell’s at times excruciating testimony, along with millions of other Catholics, was a young woman in Rome, Francesca Chaouqui.

Chaouqui, a controversial Vatican insider, had worked closely with Pell on reforming the Vatican’s opaque finances and she was appalled at what she was now seeing.

The only time the cardinal seemed comfortable was when the counsel assisting the commissioner was drawn into a philosophical discussion on the nature of group responsibility.

His prickly, hair-splitting, eyes-front demeanour relaxed, and there was a hint of the younger George Pell – an ambitious, whip-smart, academically minded and athletically talented Ballarat priest being groomed for the highest levels of Catholic power – while around him, to his claimed complete incomprehension, young boys were being groomed for abuse by a succession of evil clerics.

It was all just a “disastrous coincidence” there were so many abusers about at the time, he told the commission. No one informed him of the extent of the problems or he would have done something. When he was told of abuse, he passed the information straight to his superiors and accepted their ruling (even if it was to not do very much).

Pell, 74, learns from his mistakes. As archbishop of Melbourne, he instituted a program to help victims of abuse (though the commission last year said it had systemic problems, including discouraging victims from contacting police).

This week he also sought to redress the balance. On Thursday, with the commission hearings done, he met all the survivors of abuse who had come from Ballarat to face him at the hearing, and spent an hour in an emotional meeting with them, listening to their stories, empathising with their pain, and pledging his support to a planned centre for helping abuse survivors and preventing suicide.

In scenes remarkable in Rome, where cardinals – especially one as senior as Pell – are treated with reverence, after the meeting he stepped onto the pavement into a media pack and read a statement scrawled on hotel notepaper and written on terms requested by the survivors.

It was not quite Pope Francis-level humility, but in the eyes of the survivors, it was a start.

The commission moves on, back to Australia. Pell will be mentioned in its conclusions, and judging by the occasionally incredulous questions from the commissioner and his assisting counsel, he may be given a rough ride.

But he is safe.

Pell is, according to an unofficial but widely accepted measure agreed by the “Vaticanisti” media, the third-most powerful man in one of the world’s most powerful organisations.

He is the man who was in 2014 entrusted by Pope Francis with the hardest job in the Vatican: as prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, he must clean the Augean Stables of two millennia of graft, slush funds, crimes petty and not-so-petty, mismanagement, economic illiteracy and just plain shoddy accounting.

This is a tough job, and technically a demotion from Archbishop of Sydney. But Pell has been chasing a job in Rome for years, some claim.

“He has obtained the much-desired Vatican passport,” Francesca Chaouqui says. “No one can touch him now. The cardinal is serene; Australia is far away.”

Chaouqui is not just any Vatican commentator. She is the “Una Bomba” the “sex bomb who embarrassed the Vatican”, to quote the more lurid labels in the Italian press.

She is the communications consultant who was brought onto Pope Francis’ hand-picked reform commission, COSEA, in 2013, figuring out how the Vatican could join the 21st century in accountability, finances and structure.

And now she faces prison, charged in a three-judge Vatican court on allegations of leaking COSEA documents to the media.

Chaouqui, 34, is writing a book on her time at the Vatican, and her Milan-based agent Vicki Satlow has asked her not to do media while she shops it around.

But Chaouqui said she couldn’t keep quiet when she saw Pell on the commission video feed. It made her furious. Reforming the Vatican was her life’s work, she says. She may go to prison over it – and she fears that Pell is not the man for the job.

Chaouqui is not the “sex bomb” PR type that the papers would have you believe. She lives in a working-families suburb in southern Rome, in an apartment with inspirational quotes written on the walls.

Her husband works in IT, and they are expecting a son in late June. She first met the cardinal when she started her work at COSEA. He was taking a keen interest.

One of the goals of COSEA was to design a new organisation for the Vatican economy – their eventual recommendation was to create the Secretariat of the Economy.

Pell was one of eight cardinals in a group created by Francis in April 2013 to reform the Curia and break its over-centralisation in Rome.

Chaouqui says – in broken English, helped by a translator – Pell was “like an ‘ombre’, a shadow in the commission”.

She claims Pell was trying to influence commission secretary Monsignor Lucio Balda – now a co-accused with Chaouqui in the Vatileaks 2.0 trial – and worked to “create a relationship” with other influential people in COSEA.

In December 2013, barely five months after COSEA had been created, “Cardinal Pell was talking with Monsignor Balda and saying we have to [work] very, very fast to organise the Secretariat for the Economy”.

Chaouqui saw him as an ally, working – like them – for reform. By February the next year, their recommendations had been finalised and were out of their hands. “We had to do everything very, very fast … just six months for the study it’s not a long time for the work that we had to do.”

It was only later that Chaouqui wondered, “Why the rush?” And she wondered why Pell had been pushing so hard.

“The focus is, I am thinking, [for him] to come very fast [from] Australia,” she says. “[Pell] would call Balda three times a day, he was in such a hurry that that was not normal. The focus of the commission [COSEA]: it’s not a studied thing but it is to create this organ and [bring] Cardinal Pell here.”

She is not the only person to claim that Pell had been diligently working to secure a Vatican post.

According to Merchants in the Temple, a book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi – one of Chaouqui’s co-accused in the Vatileaks 2.0 trial – Pell had “arrived quietly in the Holy See in the [northern] spring of 2013 with the intention of playing an important role on Francis’ team”.

“He guessed correctly the new climate that the Pope wanted to bring into the Curia and he wanted to play a central role in the project of restructuring the Vatican.

“Pell’s detractors claimed that the cardinal had a single objective in those weeks: to obtain for himself a post in the Apostolic Palace and leave Sydney behind, thereby fleeing the aggressive investigation being conducted by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.”

Chaouqui says she cannot know the cardinal’s motive for seeking a permanent job at the Vatican.

But she is writing a book about one night, in February 2014, when, she says, Pell convened a meeting at Domus Australia, the Sydney Diocese centre of power in Rome, and Pell’s home away from home.

There, Chaouqui claims, Pell led Dr Joseph Zahra, president of COSEA, Balda and his aide, Nicola Maio, in creating the document that Pell then took to the Pope as the blueprint for the Secretariat of the Economy.

She claims that, essentially, they wrote the Pope’s Apostolic letter Dispensator et Prudens.

Extraordinarily, this took place without the involvement or knowledge of the Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, theoretically the Pope’s No. 2.

“I compare it to a coup d’etat what happened that night,” Chaouqui says.

“Cardinal Pell forced the creation of the Secretariat for the Economy.”

This chimes with an anecdote from Nuzzi’s book. At the secret meeting with cardinals where the Pope announced the creation of the secretariat, to the surprise of Parolin, at one point Pell was called on to explain how it worked. One cardinal joked: “Of course … Pell knows everything.”

Everyone in the meeting laughed.

Fairfax Media put a series of questions regarding Chaouqui and Nuzzi’s claims to Pell’s representatives on Thursday.

His spokesperson said “the cardinal’s strong record of tackling incompetence, corruption and cover-up in church life in Australia is precisely the reason he was asked to come to Rome to implement the Holy Father’s reforms”.

Others who have written on the topic picked the cardinal as the obvious choice to lead the economic secretariat, given his history on pushing for reform, and his independent status as a Vatican outsider.

In June 2014 Chaouqui was still a believer – telling the Boston Globe she “supports completely” Pell.

But then began Vatileaks 2.0 – in early 2015, journalists got hold of Pell’s expense claims: half a million euros before the secretariat was even established, details such as a €4600 kitchen unit, Pell’s business-class flights and expensive vestments.

Two books came out, with further embarrassing confidential details of the Vatican finances – clearly sourced from COSEA’s investigations.

Chaouqui denies being the source of the leak – and names who she thinks is responsible. But she says the details on Pell’s office, along with her reflections of the way the secretariat was created, soured her on Pell as the standard-bearer for reform in the Vatican.

And then – prompted by rumours and briefings spread by the cardinal’s political enemies – the Vatican started to become aware of the cardinal’s role, and the allegations he would face, in Australia’s royal commission.

“It’s horrible to see the cardinal that is the head of economic reform to talk about the paedophilia,” says Chaouqui, who followed the commission hearings intently. “For me it’s very incredible … the same person that represents reform is the same person that seeks to defend [himself] from accusations of having covered up a paedophile.”

She says the cardinal is losing the authority required to achieve reform. “I feared for the reform, I feared that with this situation Pell would no longer have the strength or authority to manage a new structure like the Secretariat for the Economy,” she says.

Chaouqui wonders if her son will be born while, or shortly before she is jailed over the exposure of “truths” in the Vatican. She says the mentality of cover-ups and silence that she saw in the evidence to the commission is the same as she is being put through.

“It’s crazy. I am being prosecuted as a traitor because I had the courage to denounce what is rotten in the Vatican, while Pell is safe and sound protected by its walls.”

Chaouqui says she once told Pope Francis that when one of the people that works in the economic affairs side of the Vatican chooses to reach out and touch a refugee, or someone suffering in a poor country, victims of war or abuse or oppression, someone in true need of compassion and care, only then “we win”.

“If it’s not possible we don’t win. This is the reform for me. The reform is the people, it’s not the money.

“I think the challenge is to reform the people, not the church.”

When, on Thursday, Pell chose to meet the victims of abuse, to reach out and hear their stories: above all the budgets and audits he has imposed on the church, that may have been his greatest act of reform.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

 

Best tours around the world: The 25 next great journeys

Masuleh Vilage, Gilan, Iran. Photo: Istock Puglia. Photo: Andrea Zanchi
Nanjing Night Net

The sand dunes of Rub al Khali in Oman. Photo: iStock

Discovery is what travel is all about. And nothing sparks like a new journey. Along with some places that have just opened to travellers – Iran, the Balkans, the “Stans” – there are new ways of experiencing some old favourites, crafted by imaginative operators.

Cuba on a Harley-Davidson qualifies,  or a cycling trip through Corsica or the Kimberley coastline aboard a French-accented luxury cruise ship.

Some of these new journeys involve difficult trips for hard core adventurers, but yesterday’s wild frontiers – the Shan Hills of Burma, the lemur forests of Madagascar, the Silk Road through Uzbekistan – are fast becoming well trodden paths. Here are few suggestions to set you dreaming and planning. ICONIC KIMBERLEYAustralia

WHAT French cruise line Ponant plans to begin operating cruises along the Kimberley coastline in 2017. Four 10-night voyages are scheduled between July and September 2017, sailing between Darwin and Broome. This will be the first vessel of this size and calibre to make regular cruises along this sinewy, sensational coastline since the much-loved Orion left Australia’s waters several years ago.

There’s a lot to like about Ponant’s Italian-built expedition-style vessels, from the handsome cabins to the multiple lounge areas, the three bars, the expansive deck areas, the choice of buffet or a la carte restaurants and 24-hour room service menu.

The on-board naturalists are fantastic, with several Australians in the mix, and the 14 Zodiacs put passenger disembarking into express mode.

The maximum passenger load is around 250. The Ponant ships are also the world’s youngest cruise fleet, they’re some of the prettiest ships afloat and finally – raise glasses please – there’s an open bar. Cheers!

MAKE IT HAPPEN July – September 2017, from $9700. See en.ponant南京夜网  

The Kimberley coastline. Photo: Ponant/Mick FoggBELMOND GRAND HIBERNIANIreland

WHAT In August, Ireland becomes the latest member of the luxury train league when the Belmond Grand Hibernian starts its run through the sceptred glories of the Emerald Isle with a choice of two, four or six-day itineraries.

The six-day Grand Tour of Ireland tacks on a jaunt into Northern Ireland to take in Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway, but those in search of shamrocks and blarney should be happy enough with the four-day Legends and Loughs trip, a circuit from Dublin to Cork then up the west coast to Galway and Westport and back to Dublin, with luxury trimmings all the way.

The Hibernian accommodates just 40 guests in twin and double cabins, all with en suites. The decor throughout is throttled-back neo-Edwardian in a country-comfort taupe and cream, a far cry from the belle epoque extravagance that has been the hallmark of Belmond, whose standard bearer is the Venice-Simplon Orient Express.

MAKE IT HAPPEN From August 2016, from $5025. See railbookers南京夜网419论坛.

Belmond Grand Hibernian BORDERS RAILWAYScotland

WHAT Reopened after 50 years, the Borders Railway runs from Edinburgh to Tweedbank. It’s less than 50 kilometres, but glorious scenery, history and sheer delight punch the journey into heavyweight league.

The journey takes just under an hour and, since it’s a commuter line, trains travel the line frequently. For the traveller, it works best as a hop-on, hop-off service, and there are some fascinating stops along the way.

Get off at Eskbank Station and catch a cab to Rosslyn Chapel, which played a starring role in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. From Galashiels there’s the pretty hamlet of St Boswells, and Jedburgh, site of Mary, Queen of Scots’ house. Alight at Tweedbank and it’s just a short hop to Mellerstain, a superb Georgian mansion and possibly the only remaining complete building designed by Robert Adam.

From Tweedbank station, you can walk to Abbotsford House, the castellated home of Sir Walter Scott. The Border Rail also offers easy access to more than 2000 kilometres of hiking trails, with the long-distance Southern Upland Way as one of the stars.

Another gem is the Borders Abbeys Way, a 100-kilometre trail running through woodland beside the salmon-leaping Tweed, with crumbling abbeys alongside.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Daily service, from $30 return. See 梧桐夜网bordersrailway.co.uk. THE MEKONGFrom Laos to China

WHAT Pandaw is one Myanmar riverboat company that thinks outside the square and it’s just announced a ripper journey for 2016, along the Mekong from Laos and up into the underbelly of China. The vessel is the 10-berth Laos Pandaw, the latest addition to the fleet.

From Vientiane, the Laos Pandaw will travel north along the Mekong up into Jinghong in southern Yunnan Province, a 14-day journey.

A better bet would be the 10-day trip starting from Luang Prabang. Along the way there are a few time-warped curiosities, such as the journey by car along the Old Mandalay Road in Kengtung State to the former colonial hill station of Loi Mwe, a visit to Aka hilltribe villages at Muang Long, the Menglun Botanical Garden and Mangfeilong Monastery in Yunnan before the vessel docks at Jinghong. The reverse journey is another option.

MAKE IT HAPPEN From February to April, later dates to be announced.  From $9665 (14 days Vientiane to Yunnan Province). See 梧桐夜网pandaw南京夜网/laos-china.

Laos Mekong cruise with Pandaw VALLEY OF THE ASSASSINSIran

WHAT Most Iranian itineraries have a sameness to them, but this is an eye opener, through an Iran that delivers one punchy revelation after another.

After a couple of days in Tehran, the group travels north into the Alborz Mountains, along the Caspian Sea. This is a majestic and staunchly traditional quarter of Iran, punctuated by mountain villages of pastoralists who have driven their flocks of sheep and goats up into the cloud-hung summer pastures of the Talesh Highlands since the ink was still wet on the Book of Job, and who rigorously maintain the tradition of hospitality to strangers.

Highlights include the Lambesar and Alamut “assassins” castles, the huddled and highly photogenic mountain village of Masuleh, the town of Meshkinshahr, one of the most ancient cities in Iran from the Safavid period, and the city of Tabriz​.

There’s hiking, too, up to five hours a day, and camping a couple of nights, with Shahsavan nomads along the Azerbaijan border. The group trip in September is also available on other dates as a private trip.

MAKE IT HAPPEN September 15-28, and independent itineraries; $5764. See 梧桐夜网crooked-compass南京夜网.

Tehran skyline in front of snow covered Alborz Mountains, Iran. Photo: iStockNORTH COAST 500Scotland

WHAT Rugged and romantic in equal parts, this newly minted route is a natural for any list of the world’s greatest drives.

Travelling in a loop from Inverness Castle, the North Coast 500 girdles the top third of Scotland, preferring the minor roads that snake along the coast.

The concept of a “500-miler” here defies belief, yet Scotland’s sea and ice-sculpted coastline is the answer. The route weaves out and around the long fingers that reach into the sea and thus becomes a looping, swooping 830-kilometre adventure.

It’s a less-visited Scotland. The route is designed to spread some love to the wallflower in the Scottish dance hall, and there’s every reason to take a twirl.

It’s heart-stoppingly beautiful, lavishly endowed with castles, sea stacks, sea-fretted beaches, lochs and Pictish trails, through a landscape that might have sprung from the pen of J. R. R. Tolkien.

MAKE IT HAPPEN See 梧桐夜网northcoast500南京夜网.

Along the North Coast 500 the Grey Cairns of Camster. Photo: iStockCUBA MOTORCYCLE TOURCuba

WHAT A trip to Cuba is not quite the dinner party conversation-stopper it once was.

Cuba with your hands on the bars of a Harley-Davidson, an 800cc BMW or a Suzuki VStrom is another kettle of fish.

This 13-day tour travels the length of Cuba, from Havana to Guantanamo, at the eastern end of the island and close to the infamous US-operated detention camp.

Tobacco plantations, the mausoleum of Che Guevara in Santa Clara, the Bay of Pigs museum, beaches and the World Heritage city of Trinidad feature on the itinerary. Count on four to six hours in the saddle a day, the occasional Cuba Libre cocktail, a touch of Hemingway and probably a few late-night salsa sessions.

Extreme Bike Tours specialises in tours in the Indian subcontinent, including a rugged and spectacular two-wheeled crossing of the Himalayas, and operating in remote locations makes it well equipped to handle whatever challenges Cuba throws its way.

MAKE IT HAPPEN March 6-18, 2016, later dates to be announced; $9133. See 梧桐夜网extremebiketours南京夜网.

Cuba motorcycle tour Photo: SuppliedVATICAN BY TRAINItaly

WHAT Opened in September, this railway line connects the Vatican in Rome with Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer palace. The price is a mini-marvel, and the round-trip train ticket includes access to the Vatican museums, the Sistine chapel, the Vatican gardens and the botanical and architectural wonders of Castel Gandolfo.

Better still, train travellers get to jump the queue at the Sistine chapel with an audio tour, followed by a stroll around the formal gardens.

The train, which operates only on Saturdays, departs Vatican City’s white marble railway station at 11am, crosses the Tiber River and chugs into the Alban Hills to Albano Laziale, the station for Castel Gandolfo, 30 kilometres south of the capital.

The train ticket includes a toy train tour of the Pontifical villas and their gardens, which feature a theatre built for the Emperor Domitian in the first century AD. Just after 5pm, the train leaves for the one-hour journey back to Vatican City.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Saturdays only, $60. See 梧桐夜网biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets

Vatican, Rome. GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVALMongolia

WHAT Among the Kazakh people of the western Mongolian province of Bayan-Olgii in the mountainous Altai region, ancestral ways linger.

Some people still live in pie-shaped gers, herding sheep and goats and hunting rabbits, foxes and even wolves, with golden eagles, from horseback.

Every year, the most accomplished falconers come together on the outskirts of Olgii, the regional capital, to show off their skills.

Pack your best camera – the hawk eyes and fur-trimmed costumes of these hard men of the mountains mark them as a special breed, even in a land that specialises in the extraordinary. In 2017, luxury tour specialist Abercrombie & Kent will lead a group to the festival as part of a wider exploration of Mongolia.

As well as a private session with a falconer, highlights of the journey include nights camped out in gers, hiking in the foothills of the Altai Mountains, rides across the desert aboard a Bactrian camel and Kazakh cultural performances.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Late September 2017. See 梧桐夜网abercrombiekent南京夜网419论坛.

Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia. Photo: Getty ImagesHEART OF PERSIAIran

WHAT Iran is one Middle-Eastern country that combines fascination with safety and sanity for the culturally minded traveller, and this 14-day journey aboard the ultra-luxury Golden Eagle train plumbs the wonders of ancient Persia and modern Iran.

From Tehran, the train travels clockwise to take in Isfahan, Yazd, Persepolis and Kashan as well as the holy city of Mashad in the far east and Kerman, both rare on Iranian itineraries.

Decked out like a Faberge egg, the Golden Eagle is Russia’s contribution to the luxury train league. This is the only fully en-suited train travelling through Russia and Central Asia, with proper beds, service befitting a posh hotel and caviar all the way.

Hotel facilities in most of Iran are some way short of five star. For any traveller looking to experience the wonders in stately style, the Golden Eagle is a promising alternative.

MAKE IT HAPPEN November 24, from $23,000. See 梧桐夜网goldeneagleluxurytrains南京夜网.

Isfahan, Iran Photo: iStockTRAILS TO FREEDOMItaly

WHAT In September 1943, four young Australian soldiers broke out of a prison camp north of Turin and walked across the Italian Alps, crossing five mountain passes and skirting the second-highest peak in the alps before reaching Switzerland and freedom.

The paths they took dated from medieval times, later rechristened by partisans as the “sentieri della liberta”, the trails to freedom.

Once a year, starting from August 2015, Simon Tancred, of Hidden Italy walking tours, leads a maximum of 12 keen and fit walkers to follow in their footsteps.

From Biella in Italy’s Piedmont region, the nine-day walk traverses some of the most spectacular scenery in the European Alps, along trails used by pilgrims, traders, herdsmen and hunters, with accommodation in medieval monasteries and mountain huts, as well as small hotels.

Expect simple but robust food, the slow food movement takes its stem cells from Piedmont. The walk is graded “5”, which signifies a tough trek, but far easier than those four diggers had it.

MAKE IT HAPPEN August 22, 2017, $3200. See 梧桐夜网hiddenitaly南京夜网419论坛.

Piedmont, Italy EXPEDITION – SVANETI Georgia

WHAT Even by the lofty standards of isolation and ruggedness that apply in the Republic of Georgia, Svaneti is a world best left to its own devices.

At the top left-hand corner of this pocket-sized country, shielded from Russia by the towering peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, Svaneti is the wild child in the Georgian family.

They call this the land of 1000 towers and the stone fingers of fortified turrets spike the landscape, one for every 15 inhabitants. It feels like an invading army has just marched though wielding swords and mayhem, but in this case the invading army is nature, wild and wilful, bringing avalanches and wrenching the mountains apart with torturing force.

Majestic and sown with drama, Svaneti feels like a place that humans were never meant to live. It is also unbelievably lovely when spring, coming late to these high valleys, sets white cherry blossoms exploding across the hills and turns fields into yellow planes of buttercups.

Intrepid Travel has recently unveiled a 10-day trip from Tbilisi into this remote region, with a hike from the mountain fastness of Ushguli, said to be the highest inhabited town in Europe, along a lovely stream to the Shkhara Glacier as a highlight.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Several departures, in July, August, from $1695. See 梧桐夜网intrepidtravel南京夜网.

Ushguli Caucasus Mountains, Georgia PUGLIA – A SPECIAL WALKING & CULTURAL TOURItaly

WHAT For lovers of Italy in search of something different, Puglia is the go-to place. Even more so the sub region of Salento, the heel of the Italian boot, home to some of Italy’s loveliest towns and villages, a dazzling coastline amply furnished with beaches and an architectural treasury that dates back to Greek days.

As well as rustic villages, you’ve got easy access to Lecce with its extravagant collection of baroque churches that wins it the title “Florence of the south”.

To the north is Alberobello, famous for its conical trulli houses, and the glistening white towns of the Valle d’Itria.

World Expeditions has an 11-day guided walk that dallies through some of the villages and landscapes of this lovely corner of Italy. Leading the tour is Athena McAlpine, widow of the late Lord Alistair McAlpine and a passionate and authoritative voice on this corner of Italy that she now calls home.

Better still, four nights are spent at the wondrous Convento di Santa Maria Costantinopoli, the former ruined seaside monastery that the McAlpines lovingly restored.

MAKE IT HAPPEN September 19, $6290. See 梧桐夜网worldexpeditions南京夜网.

Puglia. Photo: iStockSHAKTI KUMAON VILLAGE WALKIndia

WHAT Across India’s north-western Kumaon region, the ridge lines rise and fall, increasing in size and vigour until they crest at the shining, snow-plated giants along the border with Tibet.

Against a backdrop of terraced hillsides, grunting oxen heave wooden ploughs and women with gold jewellery in their noses thresh rice in the mud-floored courtyards of their houses. Rooftops are splashed with splotches of drying chillis. Foreigners are a source of wide-eyed wonder to the village children.

In these hills, Shakti Himalaya has crafted the Kumaon Village Walk, a guided five-day stroll that winds between villages, through fields and forests of rhododendrons, oaks and deodars.

Shakti has been operating this walk for several years but recently the village houses that hikers use for overnight stays have been refreshed, redecorated and, in some cases, rebuilt. Houses have proper beds and plumbing, while preserving the simple charm bestowed by stone and hand-hewn timber.

It’s a journey filled with human warmth as well as spectacle, culminating in a final, panting climb to watch the rising sun paint the spike of India’s tallest peak, Nanda Devi, 7817 metres of ice and rock, cresting in the heavens.

MAKE IT HAPPEN October 1 –  April 20, $3630. See shaktihimalaya南京夜网

Shakti Kumaon Village Walk, India Photo: ShaktiWHISPERS THROUGH THE EMPTY QUARTEROman

WHAT Oman is one of the few Gulf states that has not lost touch with its roots. This is a wild province of the imagination, a place of date palm oases and desert castles hoisted on craggy outcrops, the home of frankincense and myrrh and souks where men with silver daggers in their waistbands haggle over goats.

Eco-awareness rates high. Oman’s conservation-minded Sultan Qaboos Bin Said has established sanctuaries for the Arabian oryx, tahr and leopard.

In the south are beaches where turtles wade ashore to lay their eggs, now rigidly protected. From Muscat, Oman’s capital, this new 10-day four-wheel drive trip heads into the lost-in-time landscape of the Hajar Mountains, through fortified villages, lush palmeries, through Jebel Shams, the “Grand Canyon of Oman”, before heading into the towering dunescape of the Wahiba Sands and finally back to the coast at Salalah.

MAKE IT HAPPEN October 10, private departures on request, $6930. See 梧桐夜网crooked-compass南京夜网.

The sand dunes of Rub al Khali in Oman. Photo: iStockCLASSIC COLS OF CORSICAItaly

WHAT For keen cyclists, the island of Corsica is about as sweet as life in the saddle gets and this new tour from UK cycling specialist Marmot Tours is an absolute honey.

From the entry point at Ajaccio, on the island’s west coast, the route loops around to include all the landscapes that the island has to offer, taking in time-warped villages, Roman ruins, an ambrosial coastline, the starkly beautiful Desert des Agriates and narrow, cliff-hugging roads – and mountains.

Every day there’s a choice of a “challenge” route, which piles an extra helping of distance and ascents onto the less rigorous “classic” route. Even so, the classic routes are no pushover at around 120 kilometres per day, with more than 1000 metres of climbing but, according to Marmot, any fit, regular cyclist with no mountain-climbing experience can do it. Maximum group size is 20 and there are two sag wagons if your legs have had enough.

MAKE IT HAPPEN May, September, $2280. See 梧桐夜网marmot-tours.co.uk.

Corsica Photo: ShutterstockTAJIKISTAN DISCOVERY

WHAT New to the Intrepid Travel portfolio in 2015, Tajikistan and neighbouring Kyrgyzstan are not for everyone. But if you prefer your travels served wild, your scenery raw and majestic and spiced with unpredictability, these jigsaw-piece countries between Uzbekistan, China and Afghanistan could be just the place.

Most of the population lives in river valleys that gutter the high peaks of the Pamir-Alay Mountains, the geography in this region and one of the world’s least visited mountain ranges.

From Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, this 13-day trip heads south, joining the Pamir Highway at Osh to cross the border into Tajikistan on a spectacular journey that rises to 4655 metres to cross Ak-Baital Pass as it traces one of the Silk Road’s many strands.

There are some long days of driving in this itinerary, along tortuous roads, but the mountain scenery makes it worthwhile and there’s a peek across the border into Afghanistan.

MAKE IT HAPPEN May and September, from $3665. See 梧桐夜网intrepidtravel南京夜网. PADDLING RAJA AMPATIndonesia

WHAT An archipelago of 2500 islands and reefs strewn off West Papua Province, the islands that make up Indonesia’s Raja Ampat have blown all previous counts of marine life out of the water.

Lavishly greened, the toothy limestone islands of Raja Ampat – “the four kings” – erupt from the sea, covered with thick rainforest and garnished with orchids. Where the islands meet the water they are ringed by the waves, which leaves the smaller islands looking like green muffins.

For diving and snorkelling, these islands are in a class all by themselves, and a new trip from Southern Sea Ventures brings them within reach of sea-kayakers.

The trip comes in two versions. The soft option is a 10-day live-aboard on a traditional Indonesian schooner with modestly luxurious cabins and lounges; the other is an 11-day camping and homestay trip.

The vessel carries tanks and gear for scuba diving, and the diving is off-the-wall superb. All trips are full for 2016 but round up a group of like-minded friends and Southern Sea Ventures can tailor a private trip.

MAKE IT HAPPEN October-November, from $6450 for the live-aboard trip, 2017. See 梧桐夜网southernseaventures南京夜网  .

Limestone islets and tropical lagoon in the Raja Ampat islands, West Papua. Photo: iStockEXPEDITION – KOSOVO, ALBANIA & MACEDONIA

WHAT This is Europe’s final frontier, at least one of the trio – Albania – kept under wraps by the acute paranoia of the Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha. Intrepid Travel began operating this 15-day circuit in the summer of 2015 and still rates it an “expedition”, which hints at the unpredictable nature of the journey. From Tirana, the Albanian capital, the tour skips north to Shkoder close to the border with Montenegro before heading inland to Kosovo and south through Macedonia.

In these rolling Balkan uplands is a peasant landscape of scalped mountains, lakes and expanses of grassland where shepherds stand guard over their flocks. This is one of the frontiers where Islam and Christianity rub shoulders, and Byzantine churches and minarets punctuate the skyline.

The people of these three countries are a wonderful asset for the tourism cause, both friendly and flattered that foreigners find something in their countries worth seeing.

MAKE IT HAPPEN June-September, from $2595. See 梧桐夜网intrepidtravel南京夜网.

Valbona Valley, Albania JAPAN WINTER DISCOVERY

WHAT Japan in winter draws thousands of Australian skiers and boarders but Insider Journeys has just come up with a cracking winter tour that capitalises on the chilly charms of Honshu and Hokkaido without a ski pole in your hands.

Beginning with a few days in Tokyo, the 14-day tour stitches together an onsen, a hot spring resort, in the Japan Alps, a hike to visit the Japanese macaques, the highly photogenic “snow monkeys”, bathing in a hot spring at Yudanaka, temples and an icebreaker cruise among the creaking ice floes of the Okhotsk Sea.

In a variation on this tour at a slightly higher price, another tour in late January visits the Snow Festival in Sapporo, when the city’s streets are taken over by a blinding array of architectural fantasies made from snow and ice, creating a never-never world that gets even better at night.

MAKE IT HAPPEN January 15, February 12, 2017, from $9900. See 梧桐夜网insiderjourneys南京夜网419论坛.​

Japanese snow monkeys Photo: iStockReviving the classics

GOLDEN EAGLE LUXURY TRAINS The golden age of rail travel is recreated with these sumptuous railway carriages, which marry the style of a classier era with the food and comforts of our own. There’s an imaginative choice of routes – from Moscow to Vladivostok, across Mongolia and China, through the Balkans and threading the Silk Road. See 梧桐夜网goldeneagleluxurytrains南京夜网  .

Golden Eagle

IN SHACKLETON’S FOOTSTEPS From Ushuaia in southern Argentina, Aurora Expeditions’ late summer voyage retraces the voyage of this heroic polar explorer through the shifting ice pack and tubular bergs of the Weddell Sea, where his ship was crushed, then to Elephant Island and finally South Georgia, from where rescue was effected.See 梧桐夜网auroraexpeditions南京夜网419论坛  .

LEWIS AND CLARK The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06 opened the dark curtain that had shrouded the American West, marking a turning point in the history of the United States. Stephen Ambrose’s historical tour takes small groups in their intrepid footsteps on a 12-day tour, with camping and canoeing to add the essential note of realism. See 梧桐夜网stephenambrosetours南京夜网.

THE BURMA ROAD Hacked from the monsoonal rainforest of northern Burma during the 1930s, the Burma Road became an important supply route for the Allied forces in the war effort against Japan. Spice Trails has a 13-day cycle tour from Baoshan in China’s southern Yunnan all the way to Mandalay. This fantastic journey takes cyclists through some of the least visited parts of Myanmar, home to many of the country’s ethnic minorities. See 梧桐夜网spiceroads南京夜网/tours/north_burma.

THE FLYING SCOTSMAN The world’s most famous steam locomotive is back on track. After a multimillion-dollar refurbishment, this handsome green engine has been restored to its former glory and will be hauling passenger carriages on special tours across the UK. See 梧桐夜网flyingscotsman.org.uk.

Bar car on the Golden Eagle train. Right at home: Five up-and-coming Australian adventures

THREE CAPES WALK Destined to become a classic, this walk begins with a boat ride to Denman’s Cove, followed by a four-day, 46-kilometre cliff-hugging walk along the Tasman Peninsula. Numbers are restricted and overnight accommodation is in bunk rooms at architecturally crafted huts. See 梧桐夜网threecapestrack南京夜网419论坛.

View to Tasman Island from the Blade, along the Three Capes Track. Photo: Andrew Bain

GREAT SOUTHERN RAIL Great Southern Rail has recently brought a touch of Louis Vuitton-style luxury to The Ghan and Indian Pacific trains with a Platinum Club carriage, featuring a daytime lounge/bar, and an evening banquet setting suitable for captain’s dinners or larger groups. Platinum Service also includes transfers, larger cabins and in-cabin breakfasts. See greatsouthernrail南京夜网419论坛.

MACQUARIE ISLAND Quite a few of those images of elephant seals, albatross and massed ranks of Adelie and royal penguins used to sell Antarctic trips were shot on Macquarie Island. Australia’s own sub-Antarctic World Heritage island, this is mother nature with her hair down and the way to see it is on one of Ponant’s expedition cruises. See 梧桐夜网en.ponant南京夜网.

LARAPINTA CAMPS Running west from Alice Springs, the Larapinta Trail follows the backbone of the West MacDonnell Ranges through some of the most dramatic landscapes of central Australia. World Expeditions has recently extended its Larapinta Camps so that walkers spend every night in permanent camps with hot showers, comfy lounges and a heated dining shelter, where trail guides put on chef’s hats and dish out a feast. See 梧桐夜网worldexpeditions南京夜网/au.

DARLING RIVER RUN Cutting a slash across western New South Wales, the Darling River Road follows the course of the Darling from Bourke to Wentworth — a journey rich with memories of the time when the paddle steamers opened up the heart of NSW. Although the intervening years have cushioned some of the hardships, the journey along the Darling is still potent with a sense of adventure. See 梧桐夜网visitnsw南京夜网.

Macquarie Island Photo: Ponant/Mick Fogg

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

 

Forum: Pill testing and Leo’s Oscar

PILL TESTING
Nanjing Night Net

Good, health workers and doctors should never feel that they are obliged to obey laws that would allow people to come to preventable harm. Prohibition has failed, the war of drugs is lost, it’s now time to limit the harm.

William facebook南京夜网/smh

We already have syringe needle vending machines in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney (which are even backed by the Salvation Army) and they have been proven to decrease the fatality and injury risks of illicit drugs without increasing consumption. Furthermore, decreasing the risks of pill testing will save the government millions in healthcare costs. Whatever we feel about the morality of drugs, we cannot condemn people to death by stopping doctors from doing their jobs. Pill testing is the right thing to do.

Chris facebook南京夜网/smh

Testing says it’s ok to take drugs. People should not be aided in taking illegal drugs, if you take them you can die even if the doctors say they’re safe. This just aids drug dealers pushing more drugs on kids, doctors involved should be jailed.

Alex facebook南京夜网/smh

These drugs will be bought and taken regardless of the legal or health risks. This has been proven. They have been doing testing overseas for years and if it saves just one life then it is well worth it. I’m with the doctors.

Annabel facebook南京夜网/smh

As I understand it, the doctors want to test the pills to ensure that they’re not so strong as to send the user into an overdose which then requires medical intervention. The doctors are not encouraging people to buy drugs, they’re not encouraging people to use drugs, they’re basically using common sense that people that have drugs are going to take them and are trying to save lives and resources.

Greg facebook南京夜网/smh

OSCARS LEO

It’s well overdue but I’m glad he finally got it.

Amir facebook南京夜网/smh

Thank god now we can stop being bombarded with pleas every Oscars season for him to win one!

Ashley facebook南京夜网/smh

Well worth his glory … And with so many amazing films to his name.

Kelly-Ann facebook南京夜网/smh

He’s a brilliant actor who deserve to win!

Geraldine facebook南京夜网/smh

So happy for him. A very well deserved win. Congratulations.

Christina facebook南京夜网/smh

So happy for him. A very well deserved win. Congratulations.

Christine facebook南京夜网/smh

He should’ve won at least four best actor gongs by now but someone at the Academy obviously hates him.

Mary facebook南京夜网/smh

Well done mate! Long time coming!

Scott facebook南京夜网/smh

About time.

Tiziana facebook南京夜网/smh

Wonder how he has never received one before.

Michael facebook南京夜网/smh

If he wins it, it was just a sympathy Oscar.

Andrew facebook南京夜网/smh

Should have got one for Django and The Departed.

Brendan facebook南京夜网/smh

Loved him in Blood Diamond it was a great role….I didn’t love Revenant even though some of the scenes were great.

Valerie facebook南京夜网/smh

Great actor, bloody awful film.

Sandra facebook南京夜网/smh

He should have won one for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape I can’t believe he didn’t.

Jim facebook南京夜网/smh

He deserves it! He was brilliant!

Melanie facebook南京夜网/smh

ON FACEBOOK

Trump gets my Oscar for comedy of the year and best horror film.

Bernard facebook南京夜网/smh

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Funny Fact: women can propose to men on the 29th of February, or any other day of the year.

twitter南京夜网/wolfcat

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

 

Power, conflict and the NSW racing industry

Alan Jones and John Messara share a laugh at the Magic Millions Yearling Sale Day on January 6, 2016, at the Gold Coast. Photo: Bradley KanarisMessara: There’s no such thing as a Dundeel at the track
Nanjing Night Net

John Messara’s perceived power in the racing industry is such that a string of prominent industry figures declined to be quoted on concerns about Mr Messara’s conflicts of interest.

One racing executive pointed out that the media “won’t write a bad word” about Racing NSW because of the commercial arrangements surrounding the publication of form guides and the broadcast rights to races.

Asked if Sky Racing commentators were allowed to say anything critical about him or Racing NSW, Mr Messara said: “That’s the sort of rubbish people would say. Anyone can write what they like, they have editorial independence.”

However, Fairfax Media has obtained the editorial policy which Racing NSW negotiated with Sky Racing. It requires Sky employees to depict the racing industry “in a positive manner” and “not to be disparaging, critical or negative of Racing NSW”.

Ken Callander, the legendary racing writer for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, resigned last year because of what he perceived to be editorial interference in his copy when it came to writing anything critical of Racing NSW or Mr Messara or Peter V’Landys, Mr Messara’s right-hand man and the chief executive of Racing NSW.

“The Daily Telegraph is a propaganda sheet for Racing NSW,” said Mr Callander of the rumoured $4 million to $6 million per annum the paper receives from Racing NSW to publish the form guide.

(Fairfax Media also has a smaller commercial agreement with Racing NSW for a form guide.)

“I accept the editor is in charge of the paper but I didn’t want to be a party to what I saw as one-sided comment,” Mr Callander said.

Mr Messara’s clout is also buttressed by his friendship with broadcaster Alan Jones with whom he owns horses, including It’s A Dundeel.

“A lot of people are scared of Alan Jones. If Alan Jones wasn’t involved with Messara, he wouldn’t be nearly so powerful,” said one industry figure.

Both the Telegraph and Jones have been supportive of Mr Messara’s goals at Racing NSW. As he lobbied the state government to return more money to the racing industry, both the tabloid and the broadcaster championed the issue.

NSW Opposition Leader, Luke Foley, was given rare positive coverage on the front page of the Telegraph when declaring his party would support taking less money in taxes from betting revenue.

Jones was more forceful: during a robust interview with Premier Mike Baird on the eve of the last election he tore into the Premier on radio for not publicly committing to a better deal for racing. Liberal sources have claimed that the bruising interview left Mr Baird privately fuming.

Mr Messara has supporters on both sides of politics.

In May 2008, the then head of the trainers’ association Anthony Cummings was surprised to receive a call from Moses Obeid, the son of notorious Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.

Mr Cummings has since told associates that he was taken to lunch by Eddie Obeid and then-minister Ian McDonald to lobby him for industry support for a spot for Mr Messara on the Racing NSW board.

Mr Macdonald and Mr Messara had worked closely together to resolve the 2007 equine influenza saga which threatened the Hunter Valley breeding industry.

In September 2008, Mr Messara was appointed to the Racing NSW board. However, a probity auditor ruled that the selection process had been flawed and would have to be re-done.

Jones was furious about this turn of events and Callander’s reporting on it.  “The dissidents have for months found a mouthpiece in the racing writer Ken Callander, whose performance in all of this has been absolutely appalling . . . his credibility shot to pieces,” fumed Jones on air.

Callander retaliated: “‘The Parrot’ is upset because his mate John Messara was one of the losers” due to the flawed election process, he wrote. Callander also criticised Jones’ failure to mention “he is best mates with John Messara … and is a part owner with him in super stallion Redoute’s Choice.”

The previous year the estimated $50 million per annum stud fees generated by Redoute’s Choice had been in jeopardy after the government imposed a lockdown on the movement of brood mares because of the EI crisis.

Jones’ crusade about the potentially catastrophic effect on the breeding industry came to the attention of the ABC’s Media Watch which pointed out that the broadcaster had a 4 per cent stake in Arrowfield’s star sire, Redoute’s Choice.

“So could it be, Alan Jones’s interest in getting the horses moving was more than a detached concern for the industry?” posed Media Watch host Paul Barry.

But Jones’ campaign bore fruit.  “There is one bloke in Macquarie Street who has been working his butt off and doing a damn good job in difficult circumstances and this is the Primary Industries Minister – Ian Macdonald,” said Jones in September, 2007.

“I think you should be running the trains, the desalination plant and everything,” he enthused.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

 

John Messara, It’s A Dundeel and The Championship race that is worth $4 million

John Messara: “It’s a Dundeel was going to be a contestant but everyone in the world knew that.” Photo: Louise Kennerley John Messara and Alan Jones and John Messara share a laugh at the Magic Millions Yearling Sale Day on January 6 this year. Photo: Bradley Kanaris
Nanjing Night Net

It’s A Dundeel triumphed in Sydney’s richest race, the $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes, at Randwick in 2014 Photo: Damian Shaw

It’s A Dundeel at rest Photo: Bronwen Healy

Power, conflict and the NSW racing industry

When It’s A Dundeel swept past the winning post to claim the $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes – the richest race ever run on a Sydney track – the owners, who included John Messara and broadcaster Alan Jones, were jubilant.

But there were other industry figures who were deeply worried about how it would look: Mr Messara, the chairman of the racing industry’s governing body, had not disclosed that he had obtained an option to buy race favourite It’s A Dundeel while presiding over the decision to increase the prize money for that race from $500,000 to $4 million.

Nicknamed “The Messiah” by wags in the racing industry, the 68-year-old Egyptian-born former stockbroker is a polarising figure in the thoroughbred world. He is charismatic, driven and feared.

His power has been buttressed by his friendships in Macquarie Street and also by his friendship with Alan Jones, who has used his radio program to champion both the racing industry and the ambitions of his friend.

The triumph of It’s A Dundeel, which was immediately retired to Mr Messara’s stud, was not the first time concerns about Mr Messara’s potential conflicts of interest had been raised.

When the government appointed Mr Messara chairman of Racing NSW in December 2011, critics queried his suitability given his vested interest as a major breeder.

Decisions he makes as chairman of Racing NSW have the potential to advantage the breeding industry and he just happens to own the Arrowfield Stud in the Hunter Valley, the country’s biggest Australian-owned breeding operation.

In the past, those caught expressing concerns about Mr Messara’s potential conflicts of interest have been threatened with legal action by the prominent breeder.

“All that I said was if Messara gets the job – will he act in the best interests of racing or the best interests of John Messara?” said one well-known industry figure on the receiving end of a Messara legal threat several years ago.

During the course of Fairfax Media’s investigation, Mr Messara sent legal letters to a raft of people accusing them of making false and defamatory statements about him.

Adam Kilgour, chairman of the NSW Trainers Association, said he was “astounded” to receive two legal letters accusing him of making defamatory statements about Mr Messara.

The letters also demanded Mr Kilgour provide details of other people who may have been defaming Mr Messara.

Mr Kilgour told Fairfax Media his role was to advocate the views of horse trainers, which often differed from Mr Messara’s. “But last time I looked, it wasn’t a criminal or civil offence to express an alternative point of view in Australia.”

“John is always welcome to come to a trainers’ association meeting to hear first-hand what trainers think of the industry he is responsible for,” said Mr Kilgour.

Back in November 2013, as head of the state’s racing industry, Mr Messara announced the launch of “The Championships”.

The NSW government had kicked in $10 million to make two days of racing during Sydney’s autumn carnival among the most lucrative in the world.

Then racing minister George Souris told Fairfax Media he wanted the feature race for Sydney’s autumn carnival to be worth $5 million “to blow the Melbourne Cup out of the water”.

Racing NSW decided the jewel in the crown of The Championships would be the 2000-metre Queen Elizabeth Stakes and that its prize money would skyrocket from $500,000 to $4 million.

Not everyone in the industry agreed with the choice.

“We thought it was ridiculous,” said one racing executive involved with the discussions. “Any punter or breeder will say fine to double or treble it but not to make it $4 million.”

The Australian Turf Club wanted the better-known Doncaster Mile to be the feature race but Mr Messara successfully argued that a 2000-metre weight-for-age race would appeal to international competitors.

In September 2013, two months before the unveiling of The Championships, Mr Messara negotiated an option to purchase a 30 per cent interest in It’s a Dundeel after the horse’s impressive win in the Underwood Stakes, bringing to an end Atlantic Jewel’s nine-race winning streak.

The option was exercised in November and in December Arrowfield’s syndicate took its ownership of the champion stayer to just under 75 per cent. The rumoured cost was $10 million.

Asked if he should have declared his interest in one of the top prospects for the race when the prize money was being discussed, Mr Messara said, “No, not at all.”

“Conflict of interest is a state of mind, in my view,” he said. “I know … it looks like a Machiavellian plot, but it wasn’t.”

“Anyone who understands racing knows that it is ridiculously speculative. There is no certainty. I didn’t buy it and then say to myself, ‘I will win that race’.”

Mr Messara also said anyone could have bought the horse as it had been widely speculated in the industry that there was going to be a big injection of prize money into the 2014 autumn races.

“It’s a Dundeel was going to be a contestant, but everyone in the world knew that,” he said.

But whether It’s A Dundeel won the race or not, the fact such a huge amount of money was put into a staying race over 2000 metres would encourage breeders to use stallions proven over that distance, say insiders.

This would not just help market It’s A Dundeel in his second career, as his previous big wins included races at 2000 and 2400 metres, but also two horses Arrowfield had recently invested in: Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and another American horse, Gio Ponte, which had won at the highest level over 2100 metres.

Mr Messara’s potential conflict of interest in owning the race favourite had already seen tensions boil over in the days leading up to the running of the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on April 19, 2014.

On Tuesday, April 15, It’s a Dundeel drew barrier one, the closest to the rail. The following day racing stewards decided to move the rail another three metres because of the rain-affected track.

Lindsay Murphy, the Australian Turf Club’s racecourse manager, was furious.

The rail had already been moved three metres and he argued that only in exceptional circumstances should the rail be moved again, especially after the barrier draw had been done and punters were betting on the race.

ATC boss Darren Pearce knew staff were upset about the second rail move but, after walking the heavy track with chief steward Ray Murrihy, he agreed with the steward’s decision.

Mr Pearce rang Peter V’Landys, Mr Messara’s right-hand man and the chief executive of Racing NSW. Mr Pearce relayed his staff’s concerns that “everyone is going to say we did it for Messara” and that Mr V’Landys might need to address this potentially damaging perception.

“No, he wasn’t passing on any concerns to me,” said Mr V’Landys of the call. “He was being apologetic that someone would make such a reckless accusation.”

The ATC’s general manager, Matt Rudolph was one of those concerned about the perception that It’s A Dundeel had been given an advantage.

“I feel sick to the stomach – we are going to look compromised,” he told an associate.

Despite being advised by colleagues to let the matter go, he took the matter up with Mr Messara.

“There’s already enough talk about your horse being the favourite for this race. It would be a very bad look if the rail is moved out further after the barrier draw,” warned Mr Rudolph.

“I remember that scuttlebutt after the rail had been moved. I knew nothing about it, nor should I have known anything about it,” said Mr Messara.

Mr Messara was not involved in the decision to move the rail and he told Mr Rudolph that.

Insiders say the relationship between Mr Rudolph and Mr Messara and Mr V’Landys was downhill from there. Mr Rudolph, who declined to comment for this story, is currently appealing a two-year disqualification by Racing NSW over an unrelated matter.

“He was meticulous about everything to do with this race,” said another racing official about Mr Messara’s request for a specific stall at Randwick on race day.

As a stallion, It’s a Dundeel was known to be temperamental and Mr Messara wanted to make sure he was stabled in the quietest area away from any potential distractions.

As it turned out, the highly-strung horse suffered a minor injury just before the race. On hearing this, part-owner broadcaster Alan Jones bolted down from the Directors’ Room to inspect him.

He need not have worried. It’s A Dundeel, sporting Arrowfield’s racing silks of gold and black diamonds, swept past the winning post to claim the world’s richest 2000-metre turf race.

“We’ve been aiming for this all along,” said jubilant trainer Murray Baker.

As race goers know only too well, racing is all about chance and luck and there was never any guarantee the horse would win.

But win he did. The Queen Elizabeth Stakes was his last race. It’s A Dundeel, now known as Dundeel, was immediately retired to the lush pastures of Arrowfield.

His stud prospects were boosted by the massive increase in his winnings and he now generates around $3 million a year servicing mares.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.