Racing: Berry fined after being cleared of corruption

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The Independent Online

The trainer Alan Berry was cleared yesterday of deliberately running a lame horse in a race in order to profit, with others, by backing it to lose.

The trainer Alan Berry was cleared yesterday of deliberately running a lame horse in a race in order to profit, with others, by backing it to lose. Racing's latest putative skulduggery saga ended when Dick Francis-style corruption charges brought by the Jockey Club collapsed, leaving Berry, jockey Paul Bradley and blacksmith Steve O'Sullivan free to carry on their careers.

Lancashire-based Berry, son of respected former handler Jack, faced the threat of losing his licence after the Jockey Club, prompted by bizarre betting patterns, began to investigate circumstances surrounding the performance of the two-year-old Hillside Girl in a minor contest, the Fathers Day Novice Auction Stakes at Carlisle, in June last year. The filly had drifted markedly - from 7-2 to 6-1 - before being pulled up lame by Bradley before half-way.

The principal allegation facing Berry (there were 16 in total against the trio and another man, amateur rider Dale Jewett) was that he, Bradley and O'Sullivan - a known large-stakes punter on betting exchanges - had acted in concert "for the commission of a corrupt or fraudulent practice". But the conspiracy theory that they had run Hillside Girl, knowing she was lame and therefore highly unlikely to win, so that they could lay her on the exchanges, did not stand up.

Berry was, however, fined a total of £2,150 after being found guilty of two offences which were, though lesser compared to the main charge, serious enough in terms of professional competence.

One was of giving the Carlisle stewards inaccurate information at the inquiry after the race, namely statements to the effect that Hillside Girl had never had any veterinary problems and had always been fine at home; another was that of failing to train with due regard to safety "by allowing the filly to go untreated and by allowing her to run when he knew, or should have known, that she was unfit".

Hillside Girl, owned by Susan and Nigel Brown, had been diagnosed as having a problem with her left knee by a vet, who gave evidence at the enquiry, 10 days before the race and subsequently had two bone chips surgically removed from the joint. She has not raced since.

As he left the Jockey Club headquarters in London last night Berry, 41, said: "I am delighted my name has been cleared of charges to commit corruption, though I am disappointed that I have been punished for making the wrong judgement call. However, the main thing is that my integrity is not in question.

"I have maintained throughout that I did not know Hillside Girl was lame when she ran at Carlisle. I am just relieved to get all this behind me and I am delighted that the owners have stood by me. Hopefully, I can go forward from here and get a few winners."

Bradley was cleared on all counts, including one of misleading the Carlisle stewards, and said: "The Jockey Club has at last seen sense and dropped the corruption charge against me. I did not ride Hillside Girl knowing that she was lame - I simply accepted a spare ride at Carlisle, as would any jockey. I did nothing wrong and the charge should never have been brought in the first place."

O'Sullivan was found guilty of hindering an investigating officer by refusing to answer questions, and was fined £1,000. Jewett, who was working at Berry's yard at the time of the Carlisle race and had found earlier fame as rider of Aintree Foxhunters' winner Divet Hill, was found not guilty of a corrupt or fraudulent practice by using information to lay Hillside Girl on the betting exchange markets. But he was found guilty of hindering an investigating officer by claiming to have had a £20 bet on the filly to win and not mentioning he had laid bets on the exchange markets. His permit to ride was withdrawn until 1 January next year.

The hearing, chaired by Andrew Merriam, lasted four days in all, three in July and yesterday's marathon session. And as far as O'Sullivan and Jewett are concerned, the case may not yet be over.

Although the conspiracy charges were dropped, the two men may yet be accused of insider trading in that, as employees at Berry's Cockerham yard, they knew of Hillside Girl's physical problems and used that privileged information for their benefit on the exchanges. The Jockey Club has 14 days to consider its course of action.