James Lawton: Race fixing scandal will fail to deter the experienced punter

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The Independent Online

You might think that the sport of kings is as cowed as some beaten down peasant after the police's dawn raid yesterday on stables across the country and the arrest of the game's most brilliant but enigmatic rider, Kieren Fallon.

You might think that the sport of kings is as cowed as some beaten down peasant after the police's dawn raid yesterday on stables across the country and the arrest of the game's most brilliant but enigmatic rider, Kieren Fallon.

You might also think that the moon is composed of gruyère cheese.

Racing is beyond the calculation and moral values of the real world and real life. It is the home of the chancer and the trickster and the outright fraudster just as much as the superb horsemen and those who are thrilled by their interaction with the great and the mediocre and the hopeless animals who run 10,000 races a year.

The police, who have wasted more money than a legion of mug punters in past attempts to confirm that racing is nothing so much as a honeycomb of corruption, are investigating 80 suspect races. Eighty dodgy results out of that 10,000? Only in the dreams of honest racing men.

One leading bookmaker said yesterday: "There's no way around it. This is a terrible blow to the image of racing, but will it have any significant effect on levels of betting and attendance at racing? No chance. The Cheltenham Festival has gone to four days and you cannot move there. Royal Ascot has been extended with the Queen coming along.

"Some people don't seem to understand that there is no one more resilient than the punter. He always believes he is right, and that he can figure it all out. And when he gets it wrong, which the law of averages says is quite a lot of the time, it is never his fault. Today's news is just going to make him shrug his shoulders and say, 'I told you so'. But he'll say that on his way to the bookies."

Is this the arrogance of the trade that cannot lose? Or the reality on which racing has survived down all the years of dubiety and some flagrant cases of outright skulduggery? You make your bet and see how it falls.

There is, for example, no reason to cast doubt on the integrity of the connections of Red Bloom, which stormed to victory in a Group Three race at York yesterday. But then the pre-race message of the owner-breeder Cheveley Park's managing director, Chris Richard- son, was not exactly a buoyant call to the betting trenches.

Richardson said of a former fancied Classic contender, and the morning favourite: "We believe we have not seen the best of the filly this year and she still might not be at her peak, but we'll be interested to see how she copes with the soft ground and, judged by her action, it could well suit."

Not an ultimate endorsement, certainly, but then nor was it outright discouragement. So, as always, the punter in the end is obliged to follow his instinct. It is not exactly radar.

The new factor is, of course, the growth of internet betting and the facility of laying losers rather than backing winners. It is a huge shift of emphasis and, says the bookmaker, "the current scandal surely adds weight to those who say it should be outlawed. In many ways, British racing can boast of its integrity, at least in relation to much of racing elsewhere.

"The fact that wrongdoing is more traceable through the net is not really the point. Racing being racing, there will always be someone who believes they can beat the system, and laying to lose just has to be a drift in the wrong direction. You have to understand the mentality of some people in racing who get their greatest kicks by gaining something that isn't on the straight and narrow. The profits may not be as great as some honest bet, but the satisfaction is greater."

However, the gains to the gambling industry are manifest with the rising levels of investment in the losers. The scale of yesterday's police operation will surely provoke new demands for legislation.

Meanwhile, racing is doused by another flood of doubt. In one sense, racing is never going to change. It is always going to be essentially unfathomable and no doubt that is part of its appeal. Not the least of yesterday's uncertainties was the identity of Red Bloom's jockey. The morning papers said it would be Fallon, but of course by then he was already in police custody.

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