Racing: Owner of Grand National contender faces Jockey Club hearing

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The Independent Online

The Grand National winner, they say, always produces a story, by which it is meant a yarn both poetic and beautiful, surrounded by hazy hue. Think Foinavon, Aldaniti or Red Rum.

This Saturday the world's most celebrated horse race could have a victor with a barbed wire border, a grimmer sort of fairytale. Joss Naylor, one of the favourites, is the unwitting potential anti-hero as the property of Darren Mercer, a man who is due in the Jockey Club dock soon on charges which acquaint to racing's version of insider-dealing.

Mercer's legal team will be fighting a claim that he laid money on Joss Naylor on the betting exchanges for a previous race - the Welsh National at Chepstow - when he knew the nine-year-old was not going to run. That, in effect, he took bets on a horse that would never even make it to the track.

By the time Joss Naylor was taken out of the Welsh National because of flu, his exchange odds had drifted heavily. On Betfair, the leading online site, odds had been offered far greater than the 6-1 available elsewhere.

Laying horses on the exchanges is the Jockey Club's new cause célèbre. "The practice of laying a horse when in possession of privileged information about the horse's wellbeing is something we are determined to investigate whenever we have intelligence or evidence of it," John Maxse, a spokesman, said. "We want to give punters the best protection we can."

Last Thursday, Miles Rodgers, the leading figure in a syndicate, was warned off racecourses for two years for his part in offering odds about two of his horses which ran down the field.

A similar fate awaits if Mercer, a former stockbroker, is found guilty at a Jockey Club hearing, and that would mean the removal from Britain's racecourses of his black-and-white silks. If an owner is warned off, his horses cannot run.

It may be that Joss Naylor the horse - named after a legendary Lake District fell runner - will become nationally renowned for far less uplifting reasons.