Shaun Keightley has become the latest person to be punished by the Jockey Club in its security department's ongoing, and increasingly successful, clamp-down on wrongdoing within racing. The trainer, a small-time operator based in Leicestershire, was yesterday warned off - banned completely from the sport - for three years after being found guilty of corrupt practices stemming from the running of the horse Red Lancer at Wolverhampton more than two years ago.
Red Lancer, who subsequently proved a smart performer with another trainer, lost all chance of winning a low-grade seven-furlong seller on the day in question when he was left in the stalls, giving his rivals at least six lengths start as he missed the break. Before the race he had drifted in the betting, which alerted the Jockey Club watchdogs to a possible breach of the rules.
But his rider, Pat McCabe, was dealt with relatively leniently yesterday. The disciplinary panel overseeing the case decided that although he did not allow Red Lancer to run on his merits, he was not party to any pre-race betting shenanigans. He was banned from riding for 28 days.
Yesterday's verdicts bring to an end one of the sport's longest-running enquiries, one which involved some of racing's most unsavoury hangers-on. For also accused were three men already excluded from racecourses, training yards and other premises under the Jockey Club's jurisdiction, the London-based tailor Christopher Coleman, his son Dean and Epsom-based builder Neil Yorke. They were banned for corrupt betting practices relating to the case against the now-retired jockey Gary Carter. Another warned-off high-profile punter, Brighton-based John McCracken, also had links to the Red Lancer affair.
The heart of the charges against Keightley were that he was alleged to have passed information that Red Lancer would neither win nor be placed, knowing that Coleman snr, or his associates, would use that knowledge to lay the horse on a betting exchange.
The catalyst in the case was activity on the betting exchanges, particularly the brand leader, Betfair. On the form book Red Lancer had an obvious chance of winning the race after a success over the course and distance in similar company a month earlier. But the gelding, whose starting price was 7-1, drifted from 5-2 to just over 8-1 on the Betfair site prior to the race, while easing in the place market from 8-11 to 7-2. As race time approached, he was increasingly easy to back, and eventually finished ninth of 11, beaten 20 lengths.
In racing, a certain loser - a horse who can be laid with impunity - has always been a far more valuable commodity than a so-called certain winner. Those who can control such an event, and pass the knowledge on so others can benefit, are usually the trainer or jockey.
Time was when only bookmakers and certain of their clients reaped the harvest, secretly and anonymously. Now the exchanges - a 21st century phenomenon which allow anyone to act as bookie - have thrown the art and practice of laying a horse into sharp public relief. And the smoke from any surreptitious fires can be as visible as an Apache's chatline.
Keightley is a former journeyman jump jockey who has trained just 16 winners in four seasons with a trainer's licence. His last runner, It Must Be Speech, finished second at Southwell on Monday. He was punished under five different rules, including those covering corrupt practices, inside information, running horses on their merits, associating with disqualified persons and misleading Jockey Club officials. He told one that the purpose of phone calls to Coleman was to discuss the purchase of suits.
As well as his three-year warning-off, the trainer may not reapply for a licence for a further two years, and was fined £3,500. "The integrity of racing depends on those who work within it to be honest and trustworthy," the Jockey Club spokesman Paul Struthers said. "Keightley's actions in passing information to Coleman and instructing his jockey to lose a race cannot be tolerated."
McCabe rode seven winners last year, but has had just five unplaced rides this year. His ban was seven days more than the upper limit under the non-triers' rule as this was the second time he has been found guilty of stopping a horse. He expressed his relief at being exonerated over the more serious corruption charges.
"This has been hanging over me for two years," he said. "It is a small mercy it is all over now and I can get my career back on track."
Red Lancer went on to win three races as a three-year-old, including the Chester Vase, and earned over £90,000. He is now with Richard Fahey; his latest run, eighth at Doncaster on 5 November, produced far fewer fireworks than that fateful Wolverhampton seller.
Nap: Piper General
NB: Wain Mountain