Racing: Ancient spectre takes on new guise in exchange era

For centuries, racing has been littered with stories of corruption. But it is the contemporary heat of these latest events that makes them so alarming.

For centuries, racing has been littered with stories of corruption. But it is the contemporary heat of these latest events that makes them so alarming.

Where there is betting, there are bound to be attempts at "fixing" the outcome: football, cricket and snooker are just three other sports that have found this out to their cost, but racing remains the preferred choice of those who seek to profit from skulduggery.

It has been that way ever since Daniel Dawson was sentenced to death in 1812 for fatally poisoning three racehorses. Then, 32 years later, the Derby, Britain's most sacred race, was scarred by the discovery that a race restricted to three-year-olds was "won" by the four-year-old Maccabaeus, masquerading under the name Running Rein.

Every hot favourite that runs badly has always attracted a sniff of suspicion. Pas Seul in the 1962 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Ribofilio in the 1969 2,000 Guineas, and Gorytus in the 1982 Dewhurst Stakes are just three horses widely thought to have been "nobbled".

But rumours of doping become gruesome and unavoidable fact in 1990 when two horses, Norwich and Bravefoot, were found to have been "got at" by someone using ACP, a tranquilliser that is used for legitimate purposes such as calming a fractious horse when its coat needs to be clipped.

It emerged - a decade later - that the pair were part of an astonishing 23-horse doping spree within a two-month period that was administered by a former trainer and jockey called Dermot Browne. Many in racing, perhaps aware that Browne knew, metaphorically, where the bodies were buried, claimed he was a loose cannon whose word could not be trusted. The Jockey Club disagreed, banning him for 20 years, after studying his confessions and accepting his version of events.

Browne claimed he was acting in cahoots with Brian Wright, since named by police as the man suspected of being Britain's biggest cocaine dealer. Wright is currently on the run, but his son Brian was one of seven men tried at Woolwich Crown Court, in a case that lasted 14 months, following the seizure of £61 million worth of cocaine. He was found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine and sentenced to 16 years in 2002.

Wright Snr is a racing fanatic. He had a contacts book that was seized by police which was packed with some of racing's biggest names - including many élite jockeys. What were they doing there? Wright was well-known as a lavish entertainer on racecourses; it may be that he was a "groupie" star struck by the opportunity to mix with people involved in a sport he had loved since childhood.

Others suspected differently, not least the Jockey Club, which has "warned off", or banned, Wright from racecourses. Wright himself has in the past presented himself as a professional gambler, and one who was not afraid to cross the line in search of winning results. "I ran a huge operation and had a string of jockeys giving me vital information," he was once quoted as saying. "If I needed a rider to win or lose a race, he did. If I wanted to fix a race, I could."

Wright was one of 15 people, including five jockeys, arrested in 1998 as part of a race-fixing investigation that was badly handled by both the Jockey Club and the police. No one was convicted, although one of the arrested jockeys, Graham Bradley, who is now retired, has turned to the High Court to halt a Jockey Club ban that was subsequently imposed on him.

Bradley, during a separate cocaine trial at Southampton Crown Court, had admitted in his evidence that he had received cash and other rewards from Wright in return for "privileged" punting information.

Since then, racing's integrity has found itself fighting a new spectre - betting exchanges, the internet gambling phenomenon that allows people for the first time to "lay" a horse and thus profit when it doesn't win. Traditional, high-street bookmakers offer win opportunities only.

For the last four years, virtually all Jockey Club investigations into alleged corruption have focused on betting exchange activity.

Betting exchanges were linked to two races in early March, when the riders Kieren Fallon and Sean Fox were each banned for 21 days for riding injudicious races.

Another jockey, Gary Carter, has been charged by the Jockey Club over allegations that he rode eight non-triers during a two-month period last year.

Ironically, in May Ladbrokes' chief, Chris Bell, was roundly condemned for claiming in an interview that "one race per day in British racing is fixed". Suddenly his views do not seem so outrageous.

Richard Griffiths is author of 'Racing In The Dock: The inside story of the biggest scandal in racing history'


By Chris Corrigan

JOCKEYS A, B, C, D, & E decide that in a five-horse race the following day Jockey E (aboard Red Joker) will be the winner. They collude and agree to adopt a variety of tactics in the race itself:

JOCKEY A: Sets off at a breakneck gallop from the very start - certain that his mount will tire well before the finish.

JOCKEY B: Restrains horse in last place until, less than two furlongs from the winning line, rides vigorously to produce a challenge - but it is all too late.

JOCKEY C: In the closing stages he starts "whipping" his horse, a lazy type known to need plenty of driving, but the horse does not respond. The whip is not actually making contact - it's called "cosmetic whipping" and some riders are experts at it.

JOCKEY D: Need not do anything special because he knows his mount is not fit - the trainer hasn't galloped the horse for a fortnight.

JOCKEY E: Red Joker is positioned in midfield until his rider strikes for home three furlongs out. No danger.

THE WINNING POST: Red Joker wins by two lengths at 5-1 - and the jockeys are laughing all the way to the bank thanks to accomplices on-track and off-track:

ON TRACK: Two bookmakers known to the gang have, leading up to the race, been offering the biggest odds against horses A, B, C & D. They thus attract a huge weight of money staked by punters on the four certain losers. The same bookies offer the meanest odds against Red Joker - thus avoiding bets on him.

OFF TRACK: Associates of the jockeys have been tapping away at computer keyboards all day, logged on to betting exchanges. They operate accounts in their own names, or in the names of family and friends. Systematically, they set about backing Red Joker, while at the same time accepting numerous stakes on A, B, C & D - knowing these bets can't win.

SECRET: The imaginary tale above is over-simplified. If the participants behaved quite like that it would rapidly alert the entire racing village that a conspiracy was afoot. The plot's success therefore depends on those in the know being restricted to a tightly-knit group, placing and laying bets sensitively. Their secret is - don't be too greedy now. There are plenty more races to fix ...

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