Racing: Winston latest rider on HRA corruption charge

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The Independent Online

Robert Winston has become the latest high-profile jockey to be touched by the Horseracing Regulatory Authority's ongoing zero-tolerance clampdown on wrongdoing within the sport. He, plus three other lesser riders - Luke Fletcher, Robbie Fitzpatrick and Fran Ferris - and five unlicensed individuals, one a former bookmaker, have been informed of charges to be brought in connection with an investigation into alleged corruption.

Winston, currently third to Ryan Moore and Jamie Spencer in the jockeys' title race, was one of those arrested last year as part of the City of London Police's long-running probe into race-fixing - the affair that has resulted in Kieren Fallon and 10 others being charged with conspiracy to defraud offences - but was released from bail last month without charge.

There is no police involvement in this HRA investigation and racing's rulers have not yet released details of the charges. "We can confirm that four jockeys and five unlicensed individuals have been charged in connection with corrupt practices," said Paul Struthers, PR manager for the HRA, yesterday. "When licensed individuals are charged with offences of a serious nature we always give them notice of when we intend to release the details in order to give them time to digest the charges and seek legal advice. As things stand we will release the details after the weekend."

In June, the jockeys Brian Reilly and Dean Williams were told they will face charges linked to the laying of horses on betting exchanges. As a result of a similar case, the HRA warned off Gary Carter, a former champion apprentice, for five years.

The career of Winston, 26, has not been particularly straightforward, in and out of the saddle, and its ups and downs were most recently encapsulated by events at Pontefract on Wednesday. After receiving notification of his charge from the HRA in the morning, he notched his third successive seasonal century on the Alan Swinbank-trained Go Solo. Then, riding Packers Hill for the same stable in the next race, he was brought down in a three-horse pile-up when a rival fell three furlongs from home.

As a result he was absent from the racecourse yesterday, nursing a stiff, sore leg but is expected to be in action tonight at Newmarket and tomorrow at Ascot, where he has five rides for the Great Britain & Ireland team at the international jockeys' team contest, the Shergar Cup.

But Wednesday was more of a speed-bump jolt rather than the rollercoaster endured by the Irishman last August. No sooner had he been hailed as the champion jockey elect, having gone clear of Jamie Spencer after a gruelling period in which he took one day off in 67, than he smashed his jaw in a horror fall at Ayr.

Winston, born in Finglas, a Dublin suburb, graduated from the Irish Racing School and joined Richard Fahey in 1997. He rode his first winner for the Malton trainer in April that year on The Butterwick Kid at Nottingham, beating Pat Eddery in the process. He rode his first big winner for his retaining yard on Vintage Premium in the Stewards' Cup the following year, became champion apprentice in 1999 and rode his first Group One winner on Magical Romance in 2004.

Winston's talent, dedication and work ethic have never been in doubt, but his road to the top has been far from smooth. In fact, there are remarkable parallels to be drawn with Fallon, whose place at the top table he has been expected to take.

Both men served as stable jockey to the Lynda Ramsden yard, both have been employed extensively by Sir Michael Stoute. During his four-month lay-off after being injured at Ayr, Winston, like Fallon, underwent treatment at an addiction clinic, after owning up to an alcohol problem.

Winston has fallen foul of the rules many times. In 2003 he became the first jockey to be suspended for dangerous riding, earning a 10-day ban after an incident at Carlisle which left another rider with a broken wrist.

This year, his title hopes all but vanished after he was banned for 28 days in June for dropping his hands and losing a race he should have won, again at Carlisle.

Of the other jockeys involved in the HRA investigation, Ferris has ridden 16 winners this year and Fitzpatrick 41, the latest at Yarmouth yesterday. Fletcher is not currently riding, but won 15 times last season.

Chris McGrath

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