Racing: Jockeys 'groomed' by bookmaker are banned

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The Independent Online

Two jockeys, Brian Reilly and Dean Williams, were yesterday suspended for 18 months following a long-running inquiry into alleged corruption. Owen Churchill, a former owner and off-course bookmaker, was warned off for eight years after being found guilty of four charges.

The Horseracing Regulatory Authority said Churchill pursued a corrupt practice in laying 10 horses to lose, caused others to pass inside information for reward, and misled the authority's officials.

All 10 horses ran at Southwell, Lingfield or Wolverhampton. The authority was alerted by suspicious betting patterns. The first horse inquired into ran two years ago at Southwell where it finished third at 9-2 ­ its name was Knead The Dough.

The HRA's verdict said that because of arrangements Churchill had put in place, he knew that on each occasion the horses ran, they would not win and/or be placed. "Punters when they back a horse or match bets offered on an [betting] exchange should be entitled to expect the horse to run on its merits. Mr Churchill's actions undermine the reputation and integrity of racing," the verdict said.

The HRA said that Churchill, through "a carefully orchestrated plan" ensured that he would win £56,339. The liabilities he risked during these races totalled £262,329.

The plan was centred around Reilly and Williams ­ both apprentices at the time ­ after Churchill befriended them. "His behaviour in corrupting young apprentice jockeys at a vulnerable stage of their career is deplorable," the verdict said. The HRA has now declared him an " excluded person" and says he cannot apply for a lifting of the ban for eight years.

An "excluded person" is banned from all tracks, racing stables and other places licensed by the HRA. He has been running Churchill Bookmakers in East Anglia, and has an ex-directory telephone number in Lowestoft. He failed to cooperate with the inquiry.

Of Williams and Reilly, yesterday's verdict noted: "Both were young apprentice jockeys who were at the outset of their careers. Both had undergone personal problems which had consequences for their professional development. The panel accepted Williams's account that Churchill had befriended him and that he had been naïve in accepting this friendship. Churchill had provided Williams with rides on his horses despite being advised by trainers and more experienced jockeys not to do so.

"The panel concluded that Mr Churchill groomed Williams with a view to obtaining favours from him. The panel understood that Williams introduced Reilly to Mr Churchill."

Williams was found guilty on three counts ­ that he communicated information for reward, aided and abetted a breach of the rules, and misled an investigating official.

He was also found guilty of riding Ever Cheerful at Lingfield on 30 December 2004 with the intention of not obtaining the best possible placing, in the knowledge that the horse was being laid to lose on the Betfair betting exchange.

The inquiry looked into six races in which Reilly had ridden. He was found guilty of riding Three Ships at Wolverhampton on 21 January 2005 with the intention of not obtaining the best possible placing, in the knowledge that the horse was being laid to lose.

After Reilly rode Amanda's Lad, a favourite at Southwell in January last year, the Racing Post noted that, instead of holding its usual prominent position in a race, the horse "was restrained some way off the pace this time and never got close to the action".

10 horses at centre of inquiry

Owen Churchill was found guilty of refusing to provide information to the HRA about its investigation into the laying of bets on the following horses:

* KNEAD THE DOUGH at Southwell on 21 December 2004

* EVER CHEERFUL at Lingfield on 30 December 2004

* SOVIET SCEPTRE at Lingfield on 15 January 2005

* SHIFTY NIGHT at Southwell on 18 Jan 2005

* THREE SHIPS at Wolv-erhampton on 21 January 2005

* AMANDA'S LAD at Southwell in the 25 January 2005

* MARON at Wolverhampton in the on 7 February 2005

* PIROUETTES at Wolverhampton on 7 February 2005

* FIZZY LADY at Wolverhampton on 11 February 2005

* CILS at Wolverhampton on 11 February 2005.