The Jockey Club, which has tried so hard in recent years to shake off the public perception of being port-soaked toffs, an oligarchy who run racing in a shambolic, amateurish way, faces a huge setback to its cause with the screening of a series of damaging allegations in a BBC Panorama programme "The Corruption of Racing" to be shown tomorrow.
Roger Buffham, the former head of security at the Jockey Club, has turned whistleblower to claim in the BBC's flagship documentary programme that horseracing is "institutionally corrupt" and that "a whole generation of National Hunt jockeys had close links to organised crime".
The claims are refuted by the Jockey Club's executive director, Christopher Foster, and little new evidence is revealed to substantiate the allegations, but Foster's uncertainty under questioning and a farcical, foul-mouthed contribution from the man who took over from Buffham as security chief, Jeremy Phipps, will force racing followers to watch the programme through their fingers.
The most embarrassing moment comes from Phipps, ex-SAS and a former major general, who gives a burlesque portrayal of the bungling ex-army type that until recent years was to be found throughout racing administration.
In a wine-bar conversation with Buffham which was covertly filmed, Phipps, with the help of some colourful adjectives, tells his predecessor that the Jockey Club is lacking in "backbone", before describing Jockey Club members as "ignorant".
When confronted with a transcript of his meeting with Buffham, Phipps, floundering, initially denies making the comments. Then filming is interrupted by the Jockey Club's public relations director, John Maxse, who takes Phipps aside for a discussion. Miraculously, when he returns to the camera he has remembered the context of the conversation and attempts to explain, unconvincingly, that he made the comments so as to put Buffham at ease.
By then, it is all too late to repair the damage and it is difficult to see how Phipps can now carry out his role with the confidence of the racing industry.
The credibility of Buffham as an unbiased contributor, though, is open to question. He left the Jockey Club last year when he was sacked for gross misconduct and was the subject of intense criticism after the collapse of a criminal trial in 2000 involving race-fixing.
He certainly has the confidence of the Panorama producer, Stephen Scott, who yesterday defended his star witness against suggestions that revenge might have been his motivation. "I have known Roger Buffham for years," Scott said. "In my opinion he is a courageous man. He knew the difficulties he might face in helping us make this programme."
The programme also features angry confrontations between a reporter and the trainers Jimmy Fitzgerald and Gay Kelleway over letters suggesting that they had "no lose" betting arrangements with the bookmaker Victor Chandler. There is also a re-iteration of comments made in court in June by Graham Bradley concerning the passing of information by jockeys to a man called Brian Wright.
The programme also contains an interview with the ex-jockey Dermot Browne, who claims to have doped "about 27 horses" between August and October 1990. "It began with a horse at Goodwood," he says. "It stopped when I got arrested."
Browne also claims that jockeys were on the payroll of Wright. "They gave them five grand or something like that," he explains. "He [one jockey] did very well out of it. I'd get phone calls from him or other jockeys and I'd say 'Have you spoken to Uncle?' That's what everyone called him [Wright].
"They did big races, as big as the Cheltenham Festival. The bigger the race, the bigger the betting. I actually saw some of them collecting their money."Reuse content