Less than 24 hours after a victorious Kieren Fallon once again thrilled the crowds at Sunday's Irish Derby, the former champion jockey was yesterday charged with fraud. The 41-year-old - one of racing's household names - was charged as part of Britain's biggest-ever investigation into race fixing. The alleged corruption is said to have netted the fixers £10m in bets.
The inquiry centres on allegations that a syndicate of gamblers bribed jockeys to lose. Most of the races were said to have been at low-grade events that attracted a betting turnover far exceeding the prize money on offer.
Mr Fallon, one of 11 people charged after answering bail at Bishopsgate police station in London yesterday, arrived shortly after 9am and re-emerged 20 minutes later making no comment. Police confirmed that the six-times champion jockey had been charged with conspiracy to defraud. A former racing syndicate director, Miles Rodgers, was also charged with conspiracy to defraud and an offence under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The City of London Police investigation - codenamed Operation Crypton - has sent shock waves through the racing world. One insider said that the industry remained supportive of Mr Fallon. But the Jockey Club has been at pains in the past few years to show that it will not tolerate any suggestion of illegal activity and recently set up the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA).
"The industry has always closed ranks and believes perceptions of corruption in racing are exaggerated," said the official. "While there may be a bit of shady behaviour, it is nothing serious. There are now people who feel it is very important to demonstrate that people can have confidence in the way it is run in this country and they want to be seen to be dynamically policing it," he added.
Hundreds of officers have been dedicated to the investigation, which has looked into the alleged fixing of the outcome of more than 80 races between 1 December 2002 and 2 September 2004. Mr Fallon, a father-of-three from Crusheen, Co Clare, is accused of conspiring to defraud customers of the online betting exchange Betfair. Mr Rodgers, 37, of Silkstone, South Yorkshire, was also charged with conspiring to defraud Betfair customers and an offence relating to money-laundering allegations. Both men were released on bail and are due to appear at City of London magistrates' court on 17 July.
The investigation, in which the first arrests were made in September 2004, has led to raids on 19 separate addresses.
The case centres on alleged irregular betting on Betfair, which passed records from its tracking of betting patterns to the Jockey Club. Such online exchanges allow punters to match their own bets with each other, setting their own odds in a personal bet, eliminating the bookmakers. Individuals can bet on horses to lose as well as to win and can bypass the margins made by traditional bookies.
Last night the HRA said Mr Fallon had been suspended from riding in Britain pending a hearing today. But the jockey, who has an Irish licence, will not face any problems back home. Denis Egan, chief executive of the Irish Turf Club, said: "The situation in Ireland is that he will be able to continue to ride. The licensing committee will obviously note what has happened, but as far as we are concerned Kieren Fallon is innocent until proven guilty."
A racehorse trainer, Alan Berry, 43, of Lancaster, and the jockeys Darren Williams, 27, of Leyburn, North Yorkshire, and Fergal Lynch, 28, of Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, are also facing allegations of conspiracy to defraud, as are three other men. Two other men and a woman were charged with an offence under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Seventeen people were released without charge.