Racing's trial of the century falls at the final hurdle

Click here for FIVE FACES MARKED BY THE CASE As racegoers at Plumpton, East Sussex, trudged home one Saturday in March 1997, poorer after the vagaries of the Sport of Kings had dealt them another losing odds-on favourite, they little guessed they had witnessed the second leg of what was to develop into the racing farce of the century.

Click here for FIVE FACES MARKED BY THE CASE As racegoers at Plumpton, East Sussex, trudged home one Saturday in March 1997, poorer after the vagaries of the Sport of Kings had dealt them another losing odds-on favourite, they little guessed they had witnessed the second leg of what was to develop into the racing farce of the century.

Three weeks earlier at Exeter, Avanti Express, another short-priced horse, had drifted in the betting before running abysmally, and at Plumpton Lively Knight, a 1-7 favourite, had also performed dismally.

There is nothing so strange about that but the Jockey Club, racing's rulers, initiated an investigation that ended up tainting the names of several trainers and jockeys and culminated in ignominy yesterday when the trial of five men charged in connection with the doping of two racehorses collapsed when a judge at Southwark Crown Court in south London ruled that they had no case to answer.

Judge Elwen's decision was the final chapter in a tale from the seamy side of the turf which has unfolded over three and a half years and followed an investigation estimated to have cost £3m.

Those on trial were Jason Moore, 30, Raymond Butler, 52, Adam Hodgson, 37, John Matthews, 36, and Glen Gill, 34. The men, all gamblers, had pleaded not guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud between 1 March and 1 April 1997, which related to the dopings of Avanti Express, trained by Charlie Egerton, at Exeter on 7 March and Lively Knight, trained by former jockey Josh Gifford, at Plumpton on 29 March. The horses were found to have been drugged with acetylpromazine (ACP), a fast-acting sedative.

When the jury returned to the court yesterday after two days of legal argument, the judge told them: "Central to the charge of conspiracy is the idea that [the defendants] were in some way involved in doping horses or arranging for horses to be doped, and thereby going on and defrauding bookmakers and others. My conclusion is that there is no evidence from which you can infer that that part of the plot took place."

He directed the jury formally to acquit the defendants. Afterwards Mr Hodgson said: "I've never been to Plumpton in my life, I don't even know where it is, to be honest. ... the authorities were under a lot of pressure to get someone for the doping and I think that must have been down to the Jockey Club. I think it was a malicious prosecution in that they had to charge somebody."

The collapse of the trial follows an inquiry in which 16 arrests were made and a number of high-profile figures were dragged into the spotlight. Jamie Osborne, Graham Bradley and Dean Gallagher, leading Jump jockeys, and the top Flat jockey, Ray Cochrane, were among those arrested, with the trainer Charlie Brooks. All were released from the inquiry, although several spent a year or more on bail.

There is no doubt Avanti Express and Lively Knight were doped, or that the guilty party, or their co-conspirators, made a handsome profit. It was not until October 1997 that the Jockey Club disclosed that the horses had been doped, and that they had established links between the two cases.

The investigation was passed from the club's security department to the Metropolitan Police and in January 1998 Messrs Osborne, Gallagher, Butler and Leighton Aspell (rider of Lively Knight) were arrested. More arrests followed, including those of Messrs Bradley, Brooks and Cochrane. Of the 16 detained during the investigation only five would eventually face trial. While the police investigation continued, an unexpected sub-plot developed. Robert Harrington, a private investigator and former policeman, approached Mr Osborne, offering to secure his release from the investigation in return for money. Mr Osborne reported the approach to police and recorded subsequent meetings with Harrington.

In February this year Harrington was found guilty of corruptly soliciting money from Mr Osborne, and sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment.

Because of yesterday's developments it seems unlikely those responsible for thedopings will ever be brought to justice.

Within racing some will ask why the Jockey Club's security department, which employs 35 full-time staff and as many again on a part-time basis, could neither prevent the dopings in the first place nor catch those responsible.

It also became clear at the trial that many of the officers involved in the investigation had only a rudimentary grasp of racing and betting. Detective Constable Peter Kelly, who gave evidence, told the jury he had been "a bit green" about gambling.

Yesterday the Jockey Club was keen to emphasise the difficulty of obtaining convictions in relation to doping. One problem is that doping is not, of itself, an offence. The club could obtain a photograph of a doper plunging a syringe marked "ACP" into the jugular of a hot favourite, but unless they, or the police, could prove beyond reasonable that he intended to profit from his actions - that is, conspiracy to defraud - they could not expect a conviction.

Yesterday John Maxse, the club spokesman, said: "The fact remains that two horses were doped, two jockeys were put at risk and the betting public was defrauded. Yet nobody has been brought to justice, and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] had to rely on conspiracy to defraud, which is notoriously difficult to prove.

"Our view is that while the law remains unchanged, racing will remain vulnerable to criminal activity."

All the men acquitted yesterday are "warned off" by the Jockey Club, meaning they are unable to attend any racecourse or visit licensed premises such as a racing stable. All intend to appeal, and the Jockey Club said yesterday that it would review their cases.

Britain's punters, meanwhile, can only rely on the knowledge that proven cases of doping are extremely rare. Successful prosecutions are rarer still, one of the few obvious examples being that of Daniel Dawson, a Newmarket stable lad, who was found guilty of horse-poisoning in 1812. A crowd of 12,000 turned up to watch him hang in Cambridge a few weeks later. There may be those in the Jockey Club who wish that equally drastic deterrents were available today.

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