For self-confessed gambling addict Andrew Rodgerson it must have seemed like the perfect way to make money from his vice. He would be supplied with sure-fire tips from horse-racing insiders who were too well known to place their own bets. All Rodgerson had to do was place the bets when he was told to and the cash would roll in, earning a tidy sum for his clients as well as a wedge for himself.
And roll in they did – until he made the ultimate error. Busy with his day job as a travel agent, the 26-year-old forgot to place a bet. If the horse won, he would owe his customers £55,000 – a scenario so unthinkable that Rodgerson decided he could not risk it happening.
His solution: to send threats to the owner of one of the racing world's most celebrated thoroughbreds, warning him that if his horse ran in the race it would be killed. Yesterday Rodgerson, from Balderstone, near Rochdale, paid the price for his mistake when he was convicted at Bolton Crown Court.
The horse in question was Conduit, a multimillion-pound-winning flat-racer who is trained by Sir Michael Stoute – the man who trained the legendary stallion Shergar – and has been ridden by the former champion jockey Frankie Dettori. The race was last July's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
It was the final bet in an accumulator and Conduit was favourite to win. If that happened, Rodgerson's clients would be expecting a £55,000 payout. If the horse did not run, his liabilities would be £9,000. So he planned to have the horse withdrawn from the race.
Ten days before Conduit's race Rodgerson sent an anonymous text message to Peter Reynolds, the general manager of the Ballymacoll Stud Farm in Ireland, which owns the horse. It read: "Dear Peter, we would just like to warn you should Conduit run in the King George then the horse will be killed." Rodgerson followed this up with an email claiming that he had overheard men in a bar in Manchester discussing a plot to kill the Newmarket-based horse if it ran.
Mr Reynolds contacted the police and five days later received an email from Rodgerson that said: "Dear Peter, I don't believe you are taking the threat of death to Conduit very seriously. We want the horse removed from the King George this weekend. If you co-operate the horse will live. There are people living in and around Newmarket who are ready and willing. There will also be people around at Ascot on Saturday."
When he was arrested two days before the race, Rodgerson denied making the threats but later confessed when police proved that the emails and text messages had come from his laptop and mobile phone. He told officers he had no intention of carrying out the threat.
At court he pleaded guilty to a charge of threatening to commit damage. The court was told that Rodgerson had had a gambling habit since the age of 19. Joseph Hart, defending, said: "Betting on horses seemed somewhat glamorous and it was all rather exciting. He was put in touch with a syndicate ... and they were the people putting up much of the money.
"The syndicate would tell him when and where to put money on and get the best odds. This was a clever series of bets and it required quite precise timing because the odds changed so rapidly."
But Rodgerson mistimed the Conduit bet and was "utterly terrified" with the consequences of not paying the money back. Mr Hart said: "The panic continued and he committed this frankly unsophisticated and deeply stupid crime. Yes, it is a valuable horse. However, nothing that Mr Rodgerson did stopped the horse running. He made absolutely no attempt to carry out the threat. He probably does not even know where Newmarket is."
Rodgerson was sentenced to 34 weeks in prison suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 240 hours' unpaid work. But there was one saving grace for him. His solicitor persuaded the judge not to impose court costs – because Conduit won the race and Rodgerson still owes his customers £55,000.