Racing: Has the sport of kings been making dopes of us all?

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The Independent Online
The arrest of three licensed jockeys yesterday in connection with allegations of race-fixing has focused attention once again on the trustworthiness of racing.

Richard Edmondson, Racing Correspondent, assesses the impact this scandal could have on the industry.

Conspiracy theories are de rigueur in the United States at the moment, but for decades now in British betting shops they have been as much a part of the every day currency as the change pushed under the glass counter. The favourite phrase we will hear in the smoky parlours following yesterday's revelation of three jockeys being arrested over horse-doping allegations is "I told you so".

If a selection is beaten, the easy option has always been to blame any force rather than yourself. Jockey error is the favourite conclusion, but the swoops on three prominent members of the weighing-room yesterday will prompt the darkest question in the sport: is racing bent?

It may be true that many ordinary punters are drawn to betting and betting shops by the very thought that this is a practice of some jeopardy, a murky conundrum to which there is an answer only deducible by the clever few. But the thought that a result is determined before the tapes even go up is a theory which nags backers. It is also one which runs a shiver through the Jockey Club.

If there is no confidence in the integrity of racing, it will follow there will be no confidence in speculating on it. Yesterday's stink bomb has been thrown in just at a time when the sport has been trying to re- establish itself in the general betting market.

There are enough speculators willing to suggest there might be a pre- planned bias somehow in either the National Lottery or Premium Bonds without a shadow being thrown over the most malleable of betting opportunities. In racing, doubt can be cast on the trainer for the preparation he has given a horse. Jockeys can be criticised for the effort they produce from the saddle. And always there has been the final losers' sanctuary of the needle - that their selection could never win in the first place.

The Jockey Club have insisted in recent years that they possess the detective equipment to deter any attempt at pharmaceutical malpractice. There was a spate of recognised dopings in 1990 when Major Dick Hern's unbeaten Bravefoot was the most notable victim. The culprit remains at large and the Jockey Club was adamant at the time in its belief that these were isolated occurrences.

The punting mentality then, and this may be quite apposite this week, was that this was the tip of the iceberg. Mike Burton, William Hill's chief racecourse representative, said yesterday: "Let's hope it is a storm in a teacup." The dubious majority are more likely to stick with their previous perceptions.

The Jockey Club spends pounds 14m a year on its "integrity services", the departments designed to rid the sport of malpractice. There are 35 full-time and other part-time employees monitoring races and racecourse stables. About 7,500 horses are requested to give samples each year and all these arrangements have led racing's police to maintain "there is no evidence of widespread criminal activity in the racing industry".

This, however, is not the subliminal thought among those who pick up a chewed ballpoint in the nation's betting shops each day. They want to believe the worst for their misfortune and manoeuvres such as yesterday's are unlikely to assuage the common mind.

As Bill Clinton hopes in his case, the allegations, claims and suggestions may all turn out to be a dreadful smear. But in that event, the leader of the new world would be offered forgiveness far more easily than it is forthcoming from those who inhabit the betting world.