Horse racing under growing scrutiny over betting 'scam'

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As millions of punters enjoyed the spectacle of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, their favourite sport was facing the biggest ever police investigation into alleged race-fixing.

As millions of punters enjoyed the spectacle of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, their favourite sport was facing the biggest ever police investigation into alleged race-fixing.

So far, 93 races during a two-year period are suspected of being rigged and the number of allegations is growing. The alleged corruption is said to have netted the fixers £10m in bets.

Twenty-seven people, including the former champion jockey Kieren Fallon and five other riders, have been arrested and 59 people have been interviewed under caution. More arrests, including well-known jockeys, are expected in the next few months. If the allegations are proved and the police bring charges, then the sport's reputation will be dragged further through the mud.

The inquiry, Operation Crypton, centres on the allegation that a syndicate of gamblers has been bribing jockeys to lose so that they can win bets from the public who back them. As well as the six jockeys arrested, who are on bail, there are two trainers, Karl Burke and Alan Berry, with the remaining suspects being members of the alleged syndicate. More arrests are expected, including a jockey who is currently in the US. The 93 races that are being investigated took place between 2002 to 2004, and almost all were low-grade events at minor courses. One, police sources said, offered only £1,000 in prize money to the winner, yet attracted £2m of betting turnover.

The scale of the inquiry has surprised even the investigating officers. It has grown since the series of raids in September last year, in which 130 officers took part. Detectives have so far seized 2,500 exhibits, 1,200 other documents and taken 760 state-ments. They are also examining calls made on 60 mobile phones, internet betting records and the contents of 30 computers.

The alleged corruption centres on the use of online betting exchanges in which punters match their own bets with each other, setting their own odds. Individuals can bet to win, but also bet to lose, so long as they can find another punter willing to take their bet. This has allowed punters to bypass the margins made by traditional bookies.

As part of the inquiry, City of London detectives have taken to Australia video tapes of 20 races under investigation. Ray Murrihy, an Australian racing steward, was recruited to analyse the races and give an expert opinion as to whether the jockeys pulled their rides.

The Londonofficers travelled to the other side of the world to avoid any suggestion of bias by British experts.

Memories of the murkier side of racing resurfaced this week when one of the sport's most notorious fixers was arrested in Spain after six years on the run. As well as being the alleged mastermind of a big drug-smuggling operation, Brian Wright, 58, is also said to be a serial rigger of horse races. During the early 1990s he was betting sometimes £100,000 a time on alleged fixed races.

Mr Wright fled to northern Cyprus in 1999 when his alleged drugs gang was arrested, before moving to Marbella in Spain. A BBC Panorama programme, in 2002, highlighted his role, alleging that racing was "institutionally corrupt". Mr Wright was eventually banned from race meetings and from contact with jockeys and trainers following a Jockey Club hearing in the absence of the gambler - who was hiding out in northern Cyprus. John Maxse, a spokesman for the Jockey Club, said: "Racing has had its fair share of fixing allegations in the past and has proved strong enough to ride through that."

Racing, pages 58-63