Racing world rocked as jockeys arrested in doping inquiry

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The Independent Online
Three licensed jockeys were arrested yesterday over two cases of doping. Racing has always had its darker side, but the allegation of riders' involvement is unprecedented.

Four men, three of them professional jockeys, were yesterday arrested by the Metropolitan Police in dawn raids in the south of England following an investigation into two races in March 1997 in which horses were found to be drugged, and a number of other races in which the results were believed to be manipulated. Last night, the three jockeys, Jamie Osborne, Dean Gallagher and Leighton Aspell, were released on bail until 29 April, pending further inquiries. Gallagher is due to ride in the last race at Lingfield today.

The raids were carefully planned and follow a 10-month investigation. A number of documents were last night being examined by detectives. It is understood that the police are not planning to interview anyone else at this stage. A police source said: "There is nothing to indicate at this stage that racing is in any way rotten to the core."

The fourth man, who is not a jockey or a trainer, is believed to have been questioned in connection with the allegation of giving horses drugs to make them run slower.

In two of the races under investigation, at Exeter on 7 March and at Plumpton on 29 March, a strongly fancied horse was doped with a tranquilliser, Acetylpromazine (ACP), and ran poorly as a result. Avanti Express was the 5-4 second-favourite for a hurdle race at Exeter, while Lively Knight, who started at 1-7 for a three-runner steeplechase at Plumpton, was one of the hottest favourites of the year. He finished second.

When post-race dope tests on both horses proved positive, the Jockey Club's security department launched an inquiry, and called in the Metropolitan Police last May, when the investigation was widened to include other instances of suspected race- fixing. Previous allegations of doping - such as during the St Leger meeting at Doncaster in 1990 - did not result in charges, however, and few within racing believed that this latest incident would be any different. As a result, the news of yesterday's arrests was surprising enough, but the suggestion that jockeys might be involved is extraordinary. Riding in races is one of the most dangerous of all sporting professions. A drowsy horse can only add to the risks.

If a well-fancied horse is certain to lose, the potential for profit is significant, with two routes to exploiting inside knowledge. The first is to back all the remaining runners with any chance of winning. The second is to involve a bookmaker, who offers the doped horse at better odds than his rivals to attract as much backing for it as possible. When the horse is beaten, the money stays in his satchel.

There is no apparent evidence, however, of any unusual betting on the races involved. "We would have been the first to know," Alan Marcel, an on-course bookmaker who was at Plumpton, said yesterday.

For racing administrators and off-course bookmakers, even a hint of corruption is a public relations disaster. The Jockey Club's security department has 35 full-time employees and spends pounds 14m a year on integrity services to reassure punters. Almost 8,000 horses are dope-tested annually, and only a tiny fraction prove to be positive.

"Wherever there is prima facie evidence of criminal activity we will not hesitate to call in the police," Christopher Foster, the Jockey Club's chief executive, said yesterday, "but all available evidence suggests that incidents of race-fixing are very rare."

The Channel 4 racing presenter John McCririck said the arrests were "absolutely shocking news ... To get accusations against jockeys - with the sheer danger of doping their horses, or worse someone else's ".

"It is the same for racing," he said, "as the Fashanu and Grobbelaar case was for football, the Ben Johnson case for athletics ... The reverberations will last throughout our lifetimes.