So, now we know: Gambling on the horses is no game for mugs

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The Independent Online

The Crown Prosecution Service took three and a half years and more than £3m to establish something that most punters know even as they write out their 50p "Yankees".

The Crown Prosecution Service took three and a half years and more than £3m to establish something that most punters know even as they write out their 50p "Yankees".

Racing is really no place for mugs, and it doesn't matter whether they are wearing cloth caps or silk robes.

The collapse of the conspiracy trial yesterday came after a long and tortuous inquiry into the entrails of what is sometimes referred to as the Sport of Kings, but in other quarters is known as the Killing Ground for Knaves.

The fact that the five accused walked free was no great surprise. The word at the tracks and in the stables was that it was "odds on".

The prosecutors always knew they were walking in a labyrinth, but having established that two horses had been doped they felt they might just wring out a verdict.

The going was always tough. Big-time jump jockey Jamie Osborne was "lifted" in a dawn raid after his mount, the 5-4 shot Avanti Express, a seven-year-old gelding, laboured so badly in a novice hurdle at Exeter it had to be pulled up two flights from home. Three weeks later, Lively Knight "a stone-bonkers favourite" at 1-7, trailed in a poor second at Plumpton. His jockey, Leighton Aspell, also had his collar felt.

But the jockeys, who would later be joined briefly by other big names such as fellow rider Graham Bradley and trainer "Champagne" Charlie Brooks, denied any guilt and they were not among the five defendants when the trial collapsed yesterday. The Crown evidence was that two horses had been doped. Everything else was, rather like the old game itself, a tangle of suspicion.

The Jockey Club, the presiding authority of the British turf, was quick to speak of a need to change the law - and to impose tougher regulations on betting. It is a familiar cry but the idea of clean racing is rather like pure politics. It is an admirable proposition beset by inherent and perhaps insurmountable flaw. Politics is about power, and racing is about money.

The most astonishing aspect of the whole benighted affair is that the last doping case was almost 40 years ago. Did this speak of nearly four decades of racing purity? At the track, the best reaction to such a suggestion would be a roll of the eyes. Racing will always carry doubt - that is the reality with which its most fervent supporters live each time they go to the course or betting shop. The challenge is to conjure the winning bet by fine calculation of form, instinct or "information".

Against this reality the well-meaning attempt to clean up the sport was always battling uphill. One of the rueful prosecutors agreed that he knew a lot more about racing - but not much about betting. The distinction is huge and vital to any understanding of the sport's rather shaky moral base.

For the prosecution team there may be some comfort in the old story of Lester Piggott, who was once asked for advice by a trainer. The trainer said: "I have to go back to Eton, Lester, to tell the boys all I know about racing. What should I tell them?" Piggott is reputed to have replied: "Can't you say you've got a cold?"