Racing: The sport of kings or a sport of thieves: Is horse racing corrupt?

The allegations against the jockeys Kieren Fallon and Sean Fox have sent shock waves through the world of turf. But what does the racing fraternity think about the state of the sport now?
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'We are facing the most potent threat to racing in its history'

'We are facing the most potent threat to racing in its history'

Simon Clare Director of communications, Coral

This is the most potent threat to racing in its history. There have always been, over the years, instances when the integrity of racing comes into question. But since the advent of betting exchanges, the number of odd occurrences such as horses left in the stalls at the start of a small race has multiplied dramatically.

Individuals can now so easily make substantial amounts on a horse losing. It threatens the future of horseracing and the reports of the last couple of days could just be the tip of the iceberg.

The Government, horseracing and the betting industry will all be losers if customer confidence falls. The Government will lose tax and the bookmakers will lose revenue but horseracing will be the biggest losers as the punters will go to another sport, such as football. Already the damage has been done as revenues for racing fell over the past year and people are moving to betting on virtual races. There has been huge damage done over the past few days. I can't say whether the guy yesterday threw himself off his horse but there are 8,000 betting shops in the UK and, in every one, there would have been 10 to 20 who thought it looked extremely suspicious.

In the days of Dick Francis novels there was a whiff of romance to the corruption because the jockey had to forge a relationship with the dodgy bookmaker. They don't have to do that any more - they could be placing bets from a computer in the Virgin Islands. The Jockey Club says it is investigating but that would be like the local bobby being put on the case of a serial killer.

It could take weeks or months to carry out an investigation and would probably require the involvement of international police forces.

This is not something the Jockey Club can cope with alone if punters and the racing world in general are to be protected.

The big bookmakers have been calling for tighter regulation of betting exchanges for more than three years. While the major bookies, such as Ladbrokes and William Hill, have been posting healthy profits recently, we are noticing fewer people betting on horses.

'It's been going on for years'

Mark Reynolds Punter

Tip-offs and race fixings have been going on for years. Tips often originate from the stable yards - anyone from the trainer or jockey to the stable boy or farrier. Most often, the stable boy is likely to know more about the horse than even the trainer. He is assigned a horse for the season and is with it for 90 per cent of his time. He knows everything about his horse and, crucially, he will know how the horse is performing right up to the starting post.

In the past month, I've been given three lucky tips. To be honest, the scale of the problem is probably no worse than insider dealing in the Stock Exchange, but it does seem to be getting worse since the advent of betting exchanges.

When I started betting, there used to be a £2,500 maximum pay-out for each betting slip from the high street bookmakers. That went up to £5,000 and now the sky is the limit with offshore betting organisations and exchanges. A good tip is as good as any punt on the Stock Exchange, but you get the money the same day.

'We are victims of progress'

John Maxse Public relations director, Jockey Club

I don't think the sport has become corrupt in the space of a week. It is regarded in high esteem on an international basis.

Some perspective is necessary. In 2003 there were 8,000 races and 80,000 runners and there were only five occasions where there has been a ban for more than 10 days for a failure to get the best possible placing. Only once was there a ban for 21 days or more. In the last week there have been two such bans, one involving the champion jockey. The timing of yesterday's race was extraordinary - I haven't seen anything like that.

We are better equipped to monitor betting, so more incidents are coming into the public domain. The greatest protection for the punter would not be from the Jockey Club but from gambling legislation to outlaw cheating. We have no jurisdiction over the betting on our sport. The establishment of a gambling commission would provide expertise and facilities to investigate with statutory powers.

'We need a zero-tolerance policy'

John McCririck Channel 4 racing commentator

This is the greatest crisis in racing's history and that is primarily because of the allegations against a six-times champion jockey.

The fact that a jockey of Kieren Fallon's status has been struck by these allegations of corruption is likely to have serious repercussions for the racing world.

If the claims in the News of the World are proved correct, the racing regulators will have to take a long, hard look at the sport. I believe the Jockey Club will need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy and anyone found guilty of any form of corruption should face a life ban. The sport is now straighter than ever. The responsibility for cracking down on corruption lies with the Jockey Club's recently appointed security officer, the former police officer Paul Scotney.

With the size of the racing world and the amounts of money involved, you can't believe that every horse in every race is going to have performed within all the rules.

But in the wake of dawn raids on stables, the doping and drugs scandals, and now the claims against Fallon and Sean Fox, there is suspicion among punters, and that is not good news for racing.

I liken it to the worlds of athletics and swimming. As soon as a record is broken, everyone wonders whether drugs played a part.

If it is found that there is widespread corruption in racing, the public will lose faith and the consequences could be disastrous.

'How many would question a big win?'

John Cobb Racing editor of 'The Independent'

To decide whether racing - part sport, part industry - is corrupt you have first to decide what exactly racing is.

It includes the multi-millionaire owners that dominate the summer Flat season, sliding down the pyramid past the trainers and horse breeders dotted around the rural landscape, the journeymen jockeys on the daily grind round the circuit of racecourses from Newton Abbot to Perth, to the grafters at base level, the poorly paid, largely un-unionised stable workers and betting shop staff.

Tar racing as corrupt and you have to daub all these with the same brush. Then there is the growing army of punters, encouraged to join in the great gambling fest by the state-sponsored Lottery and the relaxation of gaming laws. Who are they?

They are Everyman, but particularly the disadvantaged, seeking to better their lives with the quick fix of a big win. And if given the opportunity to take part in a coup, given the nod to back a racing certainty, how many would question the morality of taking advantage of information that is not in the public domain. The racing gamble, going for a "touch", not only pre-dates the arrival of betting exchanges, it is as old as the sport itself.

It is hardly surprising when some succeed in procuring a trainer or jockey to arrange that they cannot lose.

'The sport is cleaner than ever before because of the level of scrutiny'

Philip Hobbs Trainer

If you asked me whether racing was more corrupt now, I would say that the opposite was the case. The sport is cleaner than ever before because of the level of scrutiny these days.

Racing is cleaner than it was 10 or 15 years ago because there are cameras everywhere. In the stewards' room there are often four different camera angles of the race in the final furlongs for them to watch the race.

In the old days the stewards had to rely on what they saw and the word of the officials at the track. It would be virtually impossible to get away with anything now. Television pictures are more readily available to the public and anything out of the ordinary gets played over and over again.

I think the media has played its role too. It has whiffed some scandal and then exaggerated it out of all proportion.

As far as betting patterns are concerned it seems that as soon as [the odds on] horses drift [or lengthen] at a betting exchange they are under scrutiny. But there is not necessarily anything untoward about the odds changing like that. I have plenty of horses that drift [in the odds on Betfair] and they end up winning. It is important to remember that just because a horse drifts it doesn't mean it is going to lose or there is anything suspicious.

Regarding Kieren Fallon, I can't believe there is any possibility that he made sure that the horse didn't win. It was a badly judged race because he got beaten after being ahead. It's complete rubbish to suggest that he did it on purpose. It would be ludicrous to get beaten in that way.

With Sean Fox [who appeared to leap from his mount on Monday] his toe slipped out of the iron which can easily happen.

A similar thing happened to Tony McCoy a few months ago in a televised race at Cheltenham but nobody said that was a fix.

'The floodgates have opened'

George Duffield Veteran flat jockey

The arrival of Betfair has opened the floodgates to corruption. It's a licence for corruption and anyone who thinks anything different is naïve in the extreme. As soon as we heard about Betfair being set up, we both thought, "How stupid", and my wife Ann wrote to the authorities at Portman Square to tell them so.

For a long time, they dismissed her concerns but now she feels vindicated because everyone seems to be saying these betting exchanges are to blame. I support Kieren Fallon and I don't believe the reports in the News of the World saying he threw the race.

The average punter thinks every race is fixed, but they're not. Racing in this country is so clean in comparison to other places. The new technology doesn't allow it; there are cameras coming from every angle and people constantly monitoring the races as they happen.

Having said that, I'm sure there must be someone doing something wrong; it's inevitable. Wherever there is gambling, there is bound to be trouble and corruption.'

'It's down to technology'

Chris Deuters Owner and president of the Racehorse Owners' Association

Advances in technology which have allowed people to lay [make the odds on] horses have given the sport difficult problems. I don't think corruption is an endemic issue in the sport but is certainly opens it up a great deal.

The ability to lay a horse to lose is the crucial issue. The technology creates a responsibility for the people policing it. [We have] the opportunity now to get a perfect audit trail of any detail [of a bet] and act on this. This places an enormous responsibility on them.

There have always been betting opportunities for people to take advantage of. None of us involved in the sport want to undermine the present integrity because it is the bedrock of the sport. We can't not be concerned. Most [racing] countries don't allow betting exchanges. It's not allowed in Hong Kong, Australia, Japan and the United States. I'm not against the technology; it's how it's policed that will determine how we deal with this.