Racing: Ladbrokes chief's news for punters: 'At least one race every day is fixed'

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The integrity of British horseracing was seriously undermined yesterday when the head of the country's biggest bookmaker claimed that at least one race a day is being fixed.

The integrity of British horseracing was seriously undermined yesterday when the head of the country's biggest bookmaker claimed that at least one race a day is being fixed.

The Ladbrokes chief executive, Chris Bell, has become the most high-profile figure in the racing industry to allege widespread corruption which he said was linked to the booming internet-based "exchange" betting sector, which is worth an estimated £1bn a year.

His claims that owners and often poorly-paid jockeys and stable staff may be profiting from betting exchanges by conspiring to make certain horses lose in races will put further pressure on the Jockey Club, the racing industry's ruling body

Exchanges work by providing a platform for pitting an individual - offering odds on a race - against the punter and charging a commission on the transaction.

Controversy surrounds betting exchanges such as the market leader Betfair because they allow customers to set the odds on a horse to lose, which, their critics say, encourages corruption from within the racing industry.

Critics say the rise of betting exchanges have coincided with an increase in the number of incidents of "nobbling" horses which could involve removing blinkers from a nervous mount, fitting its shoes poorly or simply sending it out unfit.

The majority of questionable deals surround little-known runners and riders at unglamorous meets.

Mr Bell, who is also the vice-chairman of the Association of British Bookmakers, will tell The Money Programme on BBC2 next Tuesday: "I am personally convinced [by what I have read and listened to] that at least a race a day, if not more, is now being corrupted by the availability of laying horses to lose on betting exchanges."

His comments come after Clive Reams, chief executive of the National Joint Pitch Council, which represents trackside bookies, told a parliamentary committee that races were fixed on a "race-by-race" basis. He claimed that one in seven - or about 1,400 races per year - were affected.

Concerns about race-fixing were heightened two months ago when a Sunday newspaper made claims that the champion jockey Kieren Fallon was acting as a "Mr Fixit" in a betting scam.

Days later, a journeyman jump jockey, Sean Fox, apparently jumped from his mount, Ice Saint, at Fontwell. Both incidents are under investigation but the Jockey Club said yesterday that it hoped to make a breakthrough in the next month.

Mr Bell's comments form part of the high street bookmakers' intense lobbying of government to protect its share of the £23bn gambling industry ahead of the Gambling Bill due to be introduced next summer with the intention of modernising the entire industry from bookmakers to casinos.

The established bookmakers have urged the Government to introduce a licensing system for "non-recreational" layers of bets which it defines as those setting the odds for more than two races or making a daily profit of more than £1,000.

Earlier this year, the Jockey Club introduced rules banning jockeys, trainers and owners from "laying" odds online on their own horses and several cases are pending against individuals alleged to have breached these. Bookmakers agreed last year to hand over client details to the Jockey Club in cases of suspicious betting.

Christopher Foster, the Jockey Club's executive director said: "Without seeing the programme, we do not know the context in which the reported remarks were made. It could be that it was a throw-away comment, because we know of no basis on which he could make such a claim."

Mark Davies, director of communications for Betfair, told the programme: "We've put the punter back in control, we've offered him choice and value that he hasn't had for 40 years."

THREE SURPRISING RACES

RED LANCER
(Wolverhampton, 20 October 2003)

Red Lancer attracted some strange betting considering it had won over the same distance on this course before. The odds started at 5-2 but lengthened to 8-1. It then justified the long odds when it got off to a terrible start and finished ninth of the 11 runners. Trained at the time by Shaun Keightley and ridden by Pat McCabe.

TOLLBRAE
(Leicester, 18 February 2004)

Despite its billing as an even-money favourite, Tollbrae was stuck at the back of the field for much of this humble maiden chase. From that apparently impossible position five fences from home it finished only seven lengths behind the winner. Trained by the highly respected Nicky Henderson and ridden by Marcus Foley.

ICE SAINT
(Fontwell, 8 March 2004)

After his mount's odds drifted mysteriously on the betting exchanges for a four-runner beginners' chase, Sean Fox gained national notoriety for seeming to step off the horse after it had made only the slightest of mistakes. Banned by the Jockey Club for 21 days for making insufficient effort to stay on board.

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