Racing: Club under fire for 'unfair' bans

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The Independent Online
The three jockeys arrested on Tuesday morning are innocent until proven guilty, but still they cannot go about their lawful business. Greg Wood reports as opposition mounts to the decision to suspend them.

Their names were in most of the morning papers, but neither Leighton Aspell nor Dean Gallagher galloped to post at the races yesterday. Away from the track, though, there was growing criticism of the decision by the Jockey Club late on Wednesday night to suspend the riding licences of Aspell, Gallagher and Jamie Osborne, the three jockeys arrested on Tuesday by police investigating allegations of doping and race-fixing.

None of the jockeys has been charged with any offence, either by the police or the Jockey Club, and both Osborne and Gallagher yesterday issued statements insisting on their innocence of any wrongdoing.

The complaints about their treatment were led by Michael Caulfield, the secretary of the Jockeys' Association, whose defence of the three riders was typically forthright. "You often hear people talk about fair hearing from the Jockey Club," Caulfield said, "but that was not a good hearing yesterday. It was against all natural fairness. We hadn't had any time to prepare, and while of course we recognise the seriousness of the events, to take away someone's licence when there is not a shred of evidence against them is totally wrong."

Caulfield took particular exception to remarks made by Christopher Foster, the Club's executive director, who was quoted as comparing the situation to that of "a headmaster accused of having his hand up a pupil's skirt and being suspended on full pay until the matter is resolved by the police". This, Caulfield said, "was far more inflammatory than anything the jockeys have said this week. So far, I think they've conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion under intense pressure. He should withdraw and apologise for such inaccurate remarks."

The Jockey Club, however, maintained that the decision of the Licensing Committee was taken "in the interests of maintaining confidence in racing". John Maxse, the Club's spokesman, said that "you have to remember that these arrests have followed lengthy investigations, both by ourselves and the police, dating back to the time of the dopings. Our initial response made the point that people were arrested in connection with the doping of two horses and certain incidents of race-fixing. The Licensing Committee came to their decision in the context of that, and it was not taken lightly. An important point is that the jockeys were bailed to report back to police on 29 April, by which time I would imagine that the whole situation will be clearer."

When three footballers were arrested and charged with match-fixing, of course, they were allowed to continue playing until the case came to court, but Maxse believes that the jockeys' situation is different. "Action was required on some level," he said, "because you had jockeys arrested in these circumstances, and the committee obviously believed it would not be in racing's best interests to ask punters to continue putting their money on them when there was an unwelcome cloud of suspicion hanging over them. We want to conduct racing without fear of reproach. "

Elsewhere, however, there was little support for the Club's position. Charles Egerton, the trainer of Avanti Express, one of the two horses doped in March last year, described the week's events as a "ridiculous charade". Osborne rides regularly for Egerton, and was aboard Avanti Express when the hurdler was doped with a tranquilliser at Exeter.

"I have total faith in Jamie's integrity as a jockey," Egerton said. "It's an insult to his intelligence that he would consider riding a doped horse at speed over jumps, and for a jockey who has ridden over 130 winners last season, he would have to be genius to have managed to have found time to fix other races. It is scandalous if it takes until 29 April to exonerate him. Not only is it preventing him doing what he is good at, riding winners, it leaves an unnecessary cloud over the racing industry. As soon as Jamie's injured wrist mends, he will again be aboard my horses with the full support of my owners."

Peter Walwyn, who like Osborne is a resident of Lambourn, added to the support for the jockey. "His immaculate riding and deportment have been an inspiration," the trainer said, "and I feel it is a personal insult for him to be treated in this way. It appears he is at fault for riding a loser, subsequently proved to have been doped. To suspend three jockeys before they have been proved guilty must surely be a gross miscarriage of justice.

"This country has always prided itself that in its justice system you are innocent until proven guilty. To arrest and not to charge him - what a slur on somebody's character."

The jockeys' licences were suspended up to and including next Thursday, and the bans will be reviewed at a further meeting of the Licensing Committee the previous day. The Jockey Club will clearly be under considerable pressure to reverse their decision, and Caulfield, the riders' most loyal advocate, will lead the charge.

"Until they are charged they are innocent and they deserve support," he says. "I'm not going to let them down. They're good men."