Racing in crisis: Sheer disbelief pervades weighing room and betting ring

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The Independent Online
In the absence of the three jockeys arrested on Tuesday at Lingfield yesterday, weighing room colleagues, bookmakers and owners were quick to spring to their defence.

As Richard Edmondson discovered, the consensus view was: "you're innocent until proved guilty."

If racing's three jockeys under race-fixing suspicion had wanted to be among supportive friends they should have travelled to Lingfield yesterday.

The card at the Surrey track was typical of the bland filler that occupies much of the winter midweek. There were no Cheltenham winners here and no casual punters, the breed most susceptible to theories of grand conspiracy.

Instead it was the continuation of the minor skirmishes between backing diehards and cold bookmakers. And neither of those groups wants to think their sport is tainted by dirty jockeys and dirty practice.

The womb for riders - the weighing room - was a quieter chamber than usual as friends and workmates of the three in question contemplated the revelations of the previous day. The mood was largely of stupefaction. "We're absolutely shattered just to be thinking that any of our weighing room colleagues could be in any way involved," Mick Fitzgerald, the Grand National-winning jockey, said. "These are boys we see every single day and I can't see that one of our own would be involved in this.

"The atmosphere in the weighing room is completely different from normal. Yesterday when we first heard we didn't know what to think, but now it's settled down and we've had time to take it all in the reaction is shock.

"We just hope that it is all going to wash out. It's all pretty unbelievable and we certainly don't believe it for one minute."

Another Grand National winner, Carl Llewellyn, also refused to contemplate that there could be renegades changing next to him. "We have had a day to think about it and the more we do the more ridiculous it appears," he said. "You can't really fix jump races. There are too many things involved. In fact it would be nigh impossible.

"We are sure the three will be completely exonerated in the end. In all my time in racing I have never come across anything that is as dicey as this is being made out. We feel it has been a big mistake."

There was not complete confidence in the ring either that the Metropolitan Police understood the machinations of the turf. "You could write on the back of a postage stamp with a blow lamp what the police know about racing," Barry Dennis, a leading bookmaker at Lingfield, said.

The languages that drive the ring are tic-tac and money, and it is the absence of any big winners from the races concerning the doped horses that puzzles the satchel-carriers. "The thought of people having a coup at small meetings like that is impossible," Dennis said. "With our underground we would have smelled something and the alarm bells would have gone off.

"People in the betting shop want to believe this happens. They think a race a day is a jockeys' race or a crooked race. This will just confirm their belief that skulduggery goes on in horseracing. This won't stop those people punting because they think it goes on already. The regulars will just carry on regardless."

There was no obvious firestorm of punter protest on course yesterday. Indeed, it was a relatively good day for turnover in the ring and the crowd was up on the corresponding meeting last year.

The betting in racing, though, is that the jockeys involved will be condemned only if they stand up and shout their sins through a megaphone. Dean Gallagher should have been riding Repeat Offer in the bumper here yesterday, but in his absence there was undiluted support from the gelding's owner, Dennis Brick. "Dean could have ridden the horse but we think he's gone to Portman Square instead," he said. "We would certainly have no qualms about putting him up. You're innocent until proved guilty."