Racing: A sport courting bad publicity

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The Independent Online
RACING starts humiliating itself again at nine o'clock in the High Court this morning as the case of Mirror Group Newspapers v the Ramsdens and Fallon v public perception continues.

There will be a financial winner when the case concludes, probably on Wednesday, but the victors will not celebrate with the sport they represent. Football too has had its courtroom dramas recently but there we were dealing with a flourishing sport. Racing's breathing passages are barely above water, and this episode, following doping and race-fixing allegations, is hardly the design for progression.

It has been a little wrenching to observe the High Court machinations this week. Racing, above just about all sports, is a pursuit of a sealed community. Very early on you learn not to condemn a turf participant in a lounge bar in horsey territory as there is almost inevitably a relative or spouse within earshot.

On Friday, we saw the appearance of two men, Kieren Fallon and Derek Thompson, who are most comfortable on the turf but less conversant with the highest civil court in the land. If you are not flummoxed by the towering and formal building on the Strand that is the High Court you were not created on planet earth. The atrium of this edifice is so high that you feel deeply sorry for the moths that have to flap up to the lights. There is only little less sympathy for the people who are drawn by necessity to the cases.

To put witnesses in these courts at the mercy of barristers is like tipping goldfish from a fairground bag into a shark tank. The pool for this case has been court No 13 (a fact not lost on the crazily superstitious realm of racing). This small arena is a blend between a Shakespearean set and a public school library, weighty legal tomes fringing the auditorium. They may be authentic, but the temptation is to pull one to establish whether the whole lot are glued together.

It was not a natural home for those stuck in the box on Friday. Fallon is a man used to expressing himself with something more lively than the dock cushion underneath his bottom. He'll probably tell you that dancing with words is not his strong point. Thompson, at least, is more comfortable in an interview setting, though it is usually him setting the agenda. The nearest he gets to gravitas is the picture puzzle, hoofbeat and turf trivia of the Morning Line.

Both naturally earned our pity, but only one is truly deserving of it. One of them has told a most tremendous porky.

Both Thompson and Fallon were back at what they do best on Saturday. The presenter did his stuff for Channel 4 from Warwick, while Fallon was on horseback. During this respite from the courts, another set of judges, the Wolverhampton stewards, banned the champion jockey for three days for careless riding.

There has been a courtroom dispute about the relationship between the duo this week. Regardless of the jury's deliberation, it will never be the same again. That is one of the small sadnesses in a rather sorrowful episode for their sport.

There will be the traditional cork-popping celebration on the pavement of The Strand on Wednesday, but then the mud will most likely be restirred. Racing's own police are watching and ready to react. "After the case has been completed questions may be asked," John Maxse, of the Jockey Club, said yesterday. "Lots of things have come up that may require attention."

The final outcome, and three witnesses for the Ramsdens are expected to continue the theatre this morning, will be decided by the 12 good men and true. Well, of course, there are women as well, and it is to be hoped they come up with a more considered and weighty judgement than the occasion when I acted as foreman of a panel. Then, some of the members spent most of the time worrying about getting back for a drink or preparing supper for a partner, and one made his adjudication on the basis of the accent of the defendant. Roll on, or role on, Wednesday.