Richard Edmondson: Jockey Club hopes technology can restore credibility

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The Independent Online

Alan Berry, the Cockerham trainer, left Portman Square yesterday free to continue his training career after serious charges relating to the running of his filly Hillside Girl at Carlisle last year were dropped.

Alan Berry, the Cockerham trainer, left Portman Square yesterday free to continue his training career after serious charges relating to the running of his filly Hillside Girl at Carlisle last year were dropped. It had been suggested that he had engaged in conspiracy and made money out of Hillside's Girl's lame capitulation by laying her on the betting exchanges. He was exonerated, though there were some dark words from the Jockey Club.

"One key witness did not attend and another came under some sort of pressure not to attend but did so in the end," John Maxse, a spokesman, said. "It does expose the limited powers the Jockey Club possesses compared to a statutory body, in terms of a subpoena to attend, for example. Conspiracy to defraud is notoriously difficult to prove." The advent of the exchanges has caused great discontent among the traditional bookmakers, with whom they are now competing. The exchange means you can back a horse to lose as well as win, that effectively you can become a bookmaker.

The Big Three do not like this new, successful kid on the block and accuse the exchanges of cultivating wrongdoers in the sport. But which came first in racing? Corruption or the exchanges? Just this week, the Jockey Club showed they were running with the modern settlers.

Christopher Foster, the executive director, said he believed the exchanges' additional risk to integrity was outbalanced by their ability to trace, and therefore deter, miscreants. The Big Three have the bank manager's attitude of confidentiality to clients' accounts and refuse to divulge individual detail. Betfair, the leading exchange, on the other hand, is partner to the so-called "Memorandum of Understanding", which allows suspicious bets to be traced to their nefarious roots. It is a start, but still there are problems. Only a Cartland romantic would not believe jockeys circumvent the rule disallowing them from betting by getting others to put on for them. Similarly, the exchanges are trying to head off well-connected punters who cultivate friends and even fictitious personalities to get bets on.

"If you can establish association between the key people you are progressing towards having a case," Maxse added. "It is a difficult but not insurmountable problem."

The Jockey Club has appeared more vigorous since the appointment of Paul Scotney as the director of security last November, yet while the former policeman has kicked a few doors down, he too has found racing is a strangely barren land in which to irrigate convictions.

Hillside Girl may be over, for the main charges at least, but there are plenty of others on the books, including two counts against the champion jockey, Kieren Fallon, and one against Sean Fox over his riding when parting company with Ice Saint at Fontwell. His case reaches its conclusion at Portman Square tomorrow.

All the while, though, racing's credibility sinks further into the mire. The judges seem to be piling up the accusations without being able to put on the black wig. "We are increasingly facing tougher legal representation," Maxse said. "The greater the ramifications for an individual then so there is a greater burden of proof. We are looking to bolster our panel with legal expertise."

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