THE NEXT chapter in the notorious Fine Cotton saga is likely to be played out in Queensland in coming days.
A Brisbane newspaper is reporting former Coffs Harbour trainer Hayden Haitana, the man at the epicentre of the 1984 racing scam, is about to have his life ban from Australian racetracks lifted by the Queensland Thoroughbred Racing Board.
While the QTRB is highly unlikely to allow him to hold a trainer's licence, Mr Haitana would be permitted to legally attend race meetings although there have been suggestions he's made plenty of low-key visits to horse sport venues, especially when domiciled in South Australia.
When The Coffs Coast Advocate last reported Mr Haitana's wish to have the ban lifted on October 7, 2010, there were still identities in the Northern Rivers Racing Association less than welcoming to the suggestion.
Former NRRA chief steward Craig Pringle diplomatically described it as an "interesting situation" while Coffs Harbour Racing Club CEO Russ Atkinson was very, very wary.
"There are still some people about who remember the stir it caused back then," he noted.
That "stir" was the ham-fisted substitution of handy galloper Bold Personality for moderately-performed Fine Cotton in a race at Eagle Farm on August 18, 1984.
Depending on whom you believe, the scam was hatched in either Brisbane's now closed Boggo Road Jail or an also now closed restaurant in Grafton Street, Coffs Harbour.
To disguise the substituted horse, the conspirators used common household Berger Breeze white paint to change its markings but even as horses paraded in the mounting yard before the race, cries of "ring in" were everywhere as the paint dripped from Fine Cotton/Bold Personality's legs.
Inexplicably, the race was allowed to go ahead and to the disbelief of almost the entire racing industry, Fine Cotton held off Harbour Gold to win by a nose.
The fall-out spread world-wide with several people jailed and others 'warned off' for having prior knowledge of the fraud.
Among the latter was bookmaker Robbie Waterhouse, husband of the prominent Melbourne Cup-winning trainer, Gai.
Mr Haitana, 68, says he merely wants to be able to take his grandchildren to the races.
Despite numerous death threats, he says he stopped fearing for his life " ... once the hitmen were killed."
The scandal almost destroyed the racing industry in Coffs Harbour and there would still remain plenty who would not be keen for Mr Haitana to be allowed back on racecourses.
Certainly, it would be highly interesting what reaction there would be if he was ever sighted in the vicinity of Howard Street.
After initially being seen as Ned Kelly-like larrikins, public sympathy turned against the plotters as the sordid details became common knowledge.
When The Advocate reported the death of Fine Cotton in a 2009 story, one of the witnesses to the original events offered his thoughts in return for anonymity.
"They caused unwarranted harm to the animals involved, set out to deliberately rob the public blind and hurt many innocent people who were painted guilty by association when they had nothing to do with it," the witness said.
"If there was anything good to come from it, it did cause a lot of scum who were giving Coffs Harbour a bad name to flee.
"It took time but the honest ones who stayed behind became the foundations of the ethical and highly-respected industry that local racing has become."
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