Racing: Club takes drug initiative

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The Independent Online
A pounds 5,000 reward and an informants' hotline were set up by the Jockey Club yesterday as it tried to regain the publicity initiative from the dopers of Flash Of Straw and Her Honour. Given the difficulty in mounting a prosecution, though, there could yet be calls for tanks on lawns from the more unreconstructed elements in racing's ruling body.

It was a courageous, though belated, show of force by the Club's security department and should alleviate some of the criticism the organisation has attracted for the secretiveness and high-handedness it employed when the doping crisis was beginning to emerge. But still the conclusion has to be that while nobbling a horse is relatively easy, given the right personnel, compiling a watertight case against the alleged plotters is virtually impossible in the absence of confessions.

Roger Buffham, the head of Jockey Club security, inadvertently admitted as much yesterday when saying that while he expects to have an 'explanation' in the Her Honour case within six weeks, 'it may not be sufficient evidence to conduct a prosecution'.

'The difficulty is in proving the conspiracy,' Buffham said.

Lack of legal muscle might seem an odd complaint when a major fraud of this nature has been conducted, but in truth the authorities do face difficulties in bringing the perpetrators to account. 'Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act we (the Jockey Club) don't have powers of search that can be backed up with a warrant or a writ,' Buffham said. 'We don't have powers to seize books and documents.'

The police, of course, do, and this is why Buffham now insists that the constabulary be called in immediately when a horse returns a positive dope test (in 1992, 7,134 samples were taken, and of the 19 that showed up positive, only Flash Of Straw's could not be innocently explained).

Buffham himself has a staff of 45 full-time and 90 part-time officers, most of them ex-policemen, and is responsible for betting intelligence, racecourse security and the licensing of training yards.

The reward of pounds 5,000 is supposed to compare favourably with the pounds 10,000 normally offered by the High Street banks after an armed robbery. It is being dangled as an incentive to those with knowledge or suspicions to dial 'Raceguard', which, from next Tuesday, will take confidential calls on a 24-hour answerphone system. Regular informants have already been urged to lower ears closer to the ground.

Further initiatives include the installation of surveillance cameras in racecourse stabling blocks and security bulletins in the weekly Racing Calendar. 'We've already placed the first of those and it enabled us to warn trainers about a con-man who is being sought by Interpol', Buffham said. 'We're pretty certain that if we hadn't issued that warning, seven trainers might have fallen foul of this particular trickster.'

And there is another, more controversial, change in place. Trainers - and jockeys - are being encouraged with immediate effect to withdraw their horses 'right up to the start of the race' if they detect anything untoward in the animal's demeanour. 'This will be a disincentive to the dopers,' Buffham said, but it will also be an invitation to the more unscrupulous elements to manipulate betting markets in other ways.

The police have come to few conclusions, but they are certain that the Flash Of Straw and Her Honour cases are not connected. They also believe that unlike Her Honour, 'Flash Of Straw was not doped on the racecourse (Yarmouth)'. This means that the horse was got at either in Geoff Lewis's training yard or en route from Epsom to Norfolk.

'It's not enough,' Buffham said, talking generally about the problem of compiling a case against a doper, 'to catch a stable lad with a smoking syringe. We have to have proof of the full conspiracy. Who were the beneficiaries, and how did they benefit?'

Buffham also defended the Jockey Club against the charge that it acted irresponsibly in concealing the doping of Flash Of Straw, who was out again yesterday when he finished third at Lingfield and, predictably, was routinely tested afterwards. 'We still believe we need a bit of breathing space to conduct these inquiries, particularly if a search warrant is required to seize documents,' he said.

Yesterday the Jockey Club had its say as it talked, in combative terms, of these 'crimes against racing'. Now it will have to catch the culprits.

Raceguard, the Jockey Club's confidential answer-phone for calls on horse doping, is on (071) 935 7151.

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