Or, what is the difference, if any, between a tip for a horse and inside information about it; when is it morally, or even legally, right to air or suppress one or the other; and who has the rights to benefit from one or the other. The panel, which is headed by John Bridgeman, chairman of the Jockey Club's regulatory board, comprises a broad sweep of interest and experience including the former trainer Toby Balding and two former jockeys, John Reid and Richard Dunwoody; TV pundit and Timeform director Jim McGrath; QC Jeremy Gompertz, an owner-breeder; and two former career policemen now with the Jockey Club security department, Paul Scotney and Ben Gunn.
In recent years the spectre of so-called insider trading has reared its head as a perceived threat to the sport's integrity on several fronts; in connection with investigative TV programmes, criminal trials and various cases addressed by the Jockey Club.
"The issue is a contentious one," said Bridgeman. "With the growth of betting opportunities now available there is a clear need for more guidance for owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff and the racing public over inside information and how it can or cannot be used. The establishment of this broadly-based panel of inquiry demonstrates that maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the sport, and the betting it attracts, is a priority."
The use of inside information for betting purposes has, of course, been around since time immemorial, generally from a negative point of view. Bookmakers have always benefited more from their stable mole telling of a definite loser than a dead-cert winner. But the growth of betting exchanges, which allow members of the public to play bookie, has thrown such activity into sharp relief.
How much information should be, or could be, placed in the public domain will be part of the panel's remit, and will be a tricky one to balance. Presumably Dick Hern and his stable staff would not have been required to confess to Nashwan's pre-Guineas wonder gallop before all getting on at 40-1, but the actions of a trainer who knows his Derby favourite has chipped a knee and conceals the fact would come under the 'cheating' heading.
"A lot more nowadays is in the public domain," said Balding. "And trainers have become more responsible about public image and the goodwill of the sport."
Sir Mark Prescott, one of the shrewdest planners in the business, concurs. "A degree of seediness is essential," he said. "But only a degree. It's like the Grand National. Enough horses have to fall to make it interesting, but you don't want to kill any. At that extreme, the public loses confidence."
The grey area between tips and insider information is one Prescott would like to see addressed. "Every day a jockey is seen giving tips," he said. "Then some horrid little stable lad is had up for doing much the same behind the scenes as the heroic one is doing for a brown envelope on TV or at some corporate function. I can't see the difference."
According to racing's rules jockeys are not allowed to bet, although many do, through punters. "One of the oldest axioms," added Prescott, "is not to have rules you can't enforce."
Another of the functions of the panel is to provide a forum for debate. Information and opinions, from the racing and betting industries, will be gathered for the rest of the year before recommendations are reported by next spring.
"Determining a definitive understanding to suit all parties might not prove straightforward," said McGrath, a regular punter, with commendable understatement, "but in an era where racing's share of the gambling industry is facing increasing competition, it's high time we tried."Reuse content