Racing: Jockey Club hats tossed in the air as unusual suspects fail to stay course

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The Independent Online

Unless you happen to have spent the last 12 months in a monastery - or perhaps Highbury - and found yourself occupied with matters of a more ethereal nature, then you could not have missed the racing controversy concerning those in positions of responsibility investing huge amounts in horses not running well.

Unless you happen to have spent the last 12 months in a monastery - or perhaps Highbury - and found yourself occupied with matters of a more ethereal nature, then you could not have missed the racing controversy concerning those in positions of responsibility investing huge amounts in horses not running well.

Well, it is this newspaper's grave duty to report that this disturbing new trend was in full evidence again here yesterday. Yes, it seems that even this most sacred of races cannot escape this most unsporting of pursuits. And what's more, it was the Jockey Club themselves who had so much staked on one of the National's principal hopes not coming home first. Indeed, when the result went their way, they waved their racecards furiously, chucked their bowler hats into the air and toasted old Ginger without one iota of shame.

Not that the august body had anything as tawdry as money riding on the poor showing of Joss Naylor or, to a lesser extent, Royal Atalza. In fact, they will claim that what they had invested was precious enough to make any ungentlemanly behaviour on their part look totally justified. They would have insisted that National Hunt's good reputation was on the line after a season in which it had been dragged through the once-blessed mud once too often. What they definitely did not want yesterday was any more muck being raked. And the thought of Sue Barker interviewing Darren Mercer, Joss Naylor's owner, in the winner's enclosure for the whole world to see would have been enough to turn the authorities puce with embarrassment.

You see, Mercer is due in front of the Jockey Club's disciplinary panel later this month to face charges of taking bets on Joss Naylor on a betting exchange for the Welsh Grand National when he supposedly already knew his horse was injured and would not be running.

Whether he is found innocent or guilty, any inquiry into the winning National owner would have reared the ugly head of those damned exchanges in the media again, especially as the company director from Manchester is known to like a bet and Joss Naylor was heavily supported towards the head of the market yesterday. It was not just the bookies' brows that were furrowed when a rumour swept the course that a mystery man in an anorak had unloaded a plastic carrier bag containing £6,000 in crumpled £20 notes to get on Mercer's charge at 12-1. Why, it wasn't even a Waitrose bag.

Alas, he and many other punters were sadly as way off the pace as Joss Naylor was when being pulled up before the 19th fence. The nine-year-old was never travelling or jumping well, and was stone-cold last before Paul Carberry cried enough on Jonjo O'Neill's gelding. In front of him, however, Royal Atalza was going well enough which would have put the Jockey Club's celebrations on hold. Because while this striking grey would have been a popular winner for the housewives, the men in tweed suits had seen quite enough of his larger-than-life owner, Terry Ramsden, before the race and, next to Joss Naylor, probably believed he represented their sport's biggest loser.

Ramsden was the patron saint of the mug punter in the early 1980s as he cheerfully blew a multimillion-pound fortune that eventually saw him warned off British racecourses and detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure for 10 months. Yesterday, Ramsden - as the only owner in the cloud-covered parade ring who was wearing shades - was as conspicuous as he has always been and took full advantage of the latest upturn in his fortunes to promise to the nation, via the BBC cameras, that he would donate all the prize-money to a Liverpool charity if his 100-1 shot won. "We've had a right few quid on. We stand to pick up £2m," said Ramsden, before warning: "but making £300m is not as hard as winning the Grand National." Or, it must be suspected, as losing a cool £300m.

Fortunately, for anyone who did not want to see racing's finest hour monopolised by this showman, the seven-year-old was pulled up two fences out as Paul Moloney's mount ran out of steam. The authorities could breathe easy. For once there was a happy ending to gladden their racing hearts.

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