Racing: Court paves way for Cook compensation: Judge says jockeys were playing Russian roulette when riding at Doncaster. Mark Popham reports

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The Independent Online
THE OWNERS of Doncaster racecourse were yesterday ruled liable for the unsatisfactory state of the ground which caused the pile-up in the Portland Handicap almost four years ago. Doncaster Borough Council will now face claims for compensation from Paul Cook, whose riding career was terminated in the accident, Ray Cochrane, who missed some important riding opportunities because of injuries sustained, and Bernard Hampson, the owner of the horse that was seriously injured in the race, Madraco.

Mr Justice Drake, in the High Court, said that the riders who rode at the 1989 St Leger meeting had been taking part in a form of Russian roulette. 'The truth as I find it is that when other horses ran over the same ground before and after Madraco fell, they were quite simply lucky,' Justice Drake said. 'It just happened that they didn't hit on a bad spot while Madraco did.

'In other words, it was all a matter of chance as to which horses would be injured. If the bookmakers, present on 13 September, 1989, had known the full facts, they would have been justified in running a side book on a form of Russian roulette: which was to be the unlucky horse and rider?'

He pointed out that it was the three plaintiffs, Hampson, Cook and Cochrane whose numbers came up and continued his racing theme. 'They were the unwilling winners of that form of Russian roulette but they are now entitled to their winnings in the form of compensation.'

The amount of that compensation will be decided at a further hearing that will probably be heard just before Christmas. Cook is seeking pounds 280,000 for loss of earnings, while Cochrane is in pursuit of pounds 41,000 for the 19 days he spent out of action with a broken collar-bone.

In reaching his verdict, Justice Drake rejected the course's explanation of events. They had claimed that the pile-up in which three horses fell had been caused because Madraco, who was leading, had spontaneously broken a leg as can happen to any horse in any race. Justice Drake preferred the plaintiffs' version which maintained that Madraco put his foot in a hole left by unsatisfactorily completed drainage work. The clerk of the course at the time, Pat Firth, whose responsibilities included the state of the track, has since retired from Doncaster.

For Cook, now 47, the campaign for redress has taken its toll. 'This has been with me every day since the fall,' he said. 'I have not been able to get away from thinking about the case. The horses that I keep and racing have kept me sane.'