Racing: Jockey Club let Lingfield off lightly

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The Independent Online
Four-figure fines reflect the Jockey Club's displeasure with both a trainer and a racecourse, but Greg Wood believes that one of the offences merited harsher penalty.

The punishment, so they say, should fit the crime, but it is not a philosophy which the Disciplinary Committee of the Jockey Club seems to recognise. Two hefty fines were handed down by the authorities yesterday, but the conclusion after the wrong-doers emerged from Portman Square pounds 2,500 lighter is that a trainer trying to pull a moderately fast one during a post-race auction is more disgraceful than a racecourse misleading the entire British betting public.

Roland O'Sullivan, the trainer in question, was fined pounds 1,500 after he was found to have prevented a racegoer, John Dunsdon, from continuing to bid for O'Sullivan's mare Harlequin Walk, after she had won a seller at Lingfield on 9 September last year. The racecourse takes a significant cut of the selling price after such events, even when the winner is "bought in" by its original connections, and O'Sullivan was alleged to have told Dunsdon: "You don't have to give money to the racecourse, you can see me afterwards."

O'Sullivan was surprised by the verdict. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm innocent," he said. "Mr Dunsdon had indicated he was finished bidding and I was standing right next to him. It was then that I spoke to him. It's a lot of money and I'm staggered."

Martin Farrell, O'Sullivan's solicitor, added: "Mr Dunsdon said he did not recall what Mr O'Sullivan said and that in no way had it influenced either him or the outcome of the auction. I am of the view that the decision was surprising given the evidence, and that, given the facts, the fine was excessive."

His last point is one with which many punters might agree, given that Lingfield racecourse was fined pounds 500 less by the same committee for issuing flawed information to the betting public. The track's executive admitted that it was at fault on 3 October, when the rails on the straight course were moved by about 15 feet, and the starting stalls were transferred to the far side. The changes were made due to safety concerns, but not until immediately before racing was due to start, by which time many bets had already been placed on the basis of earlier information.

The late switch in the position of the stalls was a particular blow to serious punters who are well aware that high numbers have a significant advantage when the stalls are on the stands' side. Following the late move, that advantage was not merely cancelled out, but actively transferred to horses with a low draw.

Geoff Stickels, Lingfield's clerk of the course, appeared at the hearing in his capacity as director of racing for Arena Leisure plc, which manages the track. He refused to comment on the specifics of the case, although he described the fine as "what I expected".

But anyone who backed high numbers on 3 October might have expected rather more. The races on the straight course were won by horses drawn two (of six), six (of 12), nine (of 14), five (of 16) and four (of 15), which strongly implies that the normal state of affairs at Lingfield had been turned upside down. "I believe the size of the fine demonstrated the Committee's concern that action was not taken earlier to rail off the unsafe ground," John Maxse, the Jockey Club's spokesman, said. Many will feel that pounds 1,000- worth of concern is not nearly enough.

A more relieved figure to emerge from Portman Square was John Smith, clerk of the course at York, who was cleared of any misdemeanour following the late abandonment of the track's fixture on 11 October. The card was called off at 10am, much to the irritation of trainers who were denied the chance to send their horses elsewhere.

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