Racing: Berry regains training licence pending trial

Alan Berry, the trainer charged on Monday by police investigating allegations of corruption, yesterday had his licence to train restored by the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA). Whether Kieren Fallon, and the two other jockeys also charged, receive the same clemency will not be established until they face the same panel on Friday.

Prompt and sensible though it is, for British horseracing this gesture is merely a prelude to months of helpless soul-searching. The trials are not expected to begin until spring, and the mutual reputation of these men and their sport can only be expected to fester in the meantime.

The HRA, which also suspended the licences of Fallon, Fergal Lynch and Darren Williams on Monday, convened a special hearing for Berry to plead his case yesterday. Under the chairmanship of Sir Michael Connell, a former High Court judge, the panel resolved that it would be "disproportionate" to prevent Berry holding a licence until he stands trial - a period likely to extend to eight months.

"This is a very long time over which to deprive a man of his livelihood," Connell reasoned. "If we suspend Berry's licence, we are satisfied this would put him out of business. In the unusual circumstances, we feel that this would be disproportionate."

Berry and a farrier, Steve O'Sullivan, have been charged with conspiracy to defraud in relation to Hillside Girl, a filly they are accused of dishonestly entering into a race at Carlisle in June 2003, before laying her to lose. She was pulled up at halfway.

In common with all those charged, Berry denies any wrongdoing. He blames the investigation for a rapid decline in his fortunes since his arrest in December 2004, his string dwindling from 80 to 35 horses.

"Our task is to balance the potentially conflicting interests of, on the one hand, the reputation and integrity of racing; and on the other, the right of the individual to pursue his chosen career," Connell said. "We must consider whether the objective of protecting the integrity of racing is so damaged by the allegations as to make it necessary to remove or restrict his licence.

"We realise, and this is fundamental, that a man is innocent until found guilty. In due course a jury must decide whether this charge is proved. It is not our task to assess the strength of the case against him, or of his defence; but we note that a responsible authority, the Crown Prosecution Service, has decided there is sufficient evidence to justify this charge."

Berry declined to comment, though Rupert Arnold, chief executive of the National Trainers' Federation, applauded the relief granted Berry's 10 staff. "Any other decision would have been wrong, in view of the fact Alan hasn't been found guilty of anything," he said.

A different view might well have been taken elsewhere. In Hong Kong, for instance, it is hard to believe that a trainer could ply his trade once the police felt they had sufficient evidence to make such a charge. On the other hand, the Turf Club of Ireland has already announced that Fallon can continue to ride there. Overall, the HRA has reached an equitable decision. After all, nobody is obliged to give business to Berry or the three charged riders.

Connell warned those jockeys not to treat this verdict as a precedent. "The charge, if proved, would strike at the heart of racing, suggesting as it does that a trainer has improperly manipulated the outcome of a race," he said. "We observe, however, that the charge, albeit of conspiracy, relates to one race only. This is in contrast to charges made against others yesterday."

Fallon's employers at Ballydoyle hope he will be permitted to ride Aussie Rules in the Coral Eclipse Stakes on Saturday. But they will have to declare another jockey pending his hearing, after which they would be given dispensation to switch Fallon on to the horse.

The former champion yesterday offered only the briefest comment to the newspaper that pays him for a column. "I was totally shocked when they charged me," he said. "I am glad of the support of so many people and will now prove my innocence in court."

His involvement has inflated the impact of this saga but the British Horseracing Board expressed confidence that punters would not lose faith in the sport. Chris Brand, its chief executive, argued that the case reflected scrupulous standards of regulation.

"The sport is run to very high standards of integrity and people can have confidence that they are watching and betting on fairly run races," he said. "Investigations into Italian football and the German referee Robert Hoyzer, involving match fixing, could hardly be said to have reduced interest in and betting on the World Cup. People can be credited with the intelligence not to conclude that, because a small number are charged with criminal actions, an entire sport cannot be trusted."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Cross The Line

(Kempton 8.24)

NB: The Spacer

(Worcester 2.10)

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