Racing: Jockeys' trainers condemn `diabolical' racing ban

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The jockeys arrested over two cases of doping racehorses have had their licences to ride temporarily suspended by the Jockey Club to protect racing's image despite the fact that no criminal charges have been brought. The trainers of the doped horses are standing by the jockeys whose livelihoods have been taken away. Greg Wood reports.

The three jockeys arrested on Tuesday in connection with a police investigation into alleged race-fixing were last night suspended for a week by the Jockey Club. The decision was condemned as "diabolical" and "scandalous" by the trainers of the doped horses who are standing firmly behind their jockeys. "They can't suspend people until they are found guilty," one of the trainers, Charles Egerton, said. "They are taking away their livelihoods."

Dean Gallagher and Leighton Aspell had been booked to ride this afternoon at Wincanton and Huntingdon respectively, while Jamie Osborne, who is recovering from a broken wrist, had been expected to return to race-riding within the next two weeks.

All three riders were legally represented at the hearing, which took place at a specially convened meeting of the Club's Licensing Committee.

It took the three-man panel four and a half hours to reach a decision that ignored the precedent set by the Football Association in 1996, which allowed three footballers accused of match-rigging offences to continue playing while their case came to court.

The jockeys, picked up in dawn raids on Tuesday in Lambourn, Findon and London by officers of the Metropolitan Police's Organised Crime Group, were held for 12 hours at Charing Cross police station before being bailed to return on 29 April. None of the three has been charged with a criminal offence in relation to the doping of the racehorses Avanti Express and Lively Knight at Exeter and Plumpton last year.

None of the riders was prepared to comment as they left the hearing last night, but Michael Caulfield, secretary of the Jockeys' Association, read a prepared statement on their behalf.

"The jockeys are very disappointed with the outcome and the conduct of today's hearing," the statement said. "The Licensing Committee has made it quite clear that the short suspension is not a reflection on the character of the jockeys involved. The decision was taken because the Committee believe that the public would be reassured by the suspensions.

"We stress that the jockeys have not been charged by the police nor have they been charged with any breaches of the rules of racing. Despite numerous requests, no evidence was provided in support of any such allegations. The jockeys will continue to co-operate with the Metropolitan Police and the Jockey Club, and they categorically deny any wrongdoing."

The Jockey Club, the ultimate authority in matters of racing discipline, clearly feels that it needs to be seen to act following Tuesday's dramatic events. Had Gallagher and Aspell been allowed to fulfil their engagements today, they would have done so amid a media scrum, and would also have risked abuse from racegoers.

The jockeys, however, are clearly dissatisfied by the ban, irrespective of the fact that it is, at present, temporary, and the Club is on questionable ground in removing the chance to earn a living from riders who have not been found guilty of wrongdoing.

Andrew Chalk, Jamie Osborne's solicitor, said afterwards: "The jockeys were notified about today's hearing by letter last night [Tuesday] and they were very disappointed to be given such short notice about such an important issue affecting livelihoods and careers."

In a statement of its own, the Club said that the ban had been imposed "to maintain the public's confidence in horse racing". The three-man committee comprising Gurney Sheppard, a long-standing member of the Jockey Club, Philip Blacker, a former jockey, and David Gibson, a prominent racehorse breeder, will reconvene next week to consider whether the suspensions should be extended.

"The decision to suspend the licences was not taken lightly," Christopher Foster, the Club's executive director, said. "We wish to make it clear that this is not a disciplinary measure. However, the Jockey Club has a duty to maintain confidence in racing. The Committee decided that the suspension of the licences was the right action in the wider interests of the sport.

"The Committee will meet on 4 February when the jockeys will have the opportunity to make further representations as to why that suspension should not be continued for a longer period."

Egerton and Josh Gifford, the trainers of the horses involved in the dopings, were vehement in their criticism of the Jockey Club's decision.

Egerton, the trainer of Avanti Express, ridden by Osborne when pulled up at Exeter on 7 March, said: "I totally believe in Jamie Osborne's innocence. I think any ban is scandalous, I've no doubt he will be exonerated."

Gifford was equally uncompromising in his reaction to the decision to suspend Aspell, who is the conditional (apprentice) jockey for his stable and who rode Lively Knight, who tested positive after his run on 29 March.

"Are they guilty or are they not?" he asked. "It's a diabolical decision and I think those who made this decision are turning racing into a laughing stock. From what Leighton has said to me there is no possible way that my boy could have done anything wrong. I believe in `innocent until proven guilty'.

"They were arrested like criminals and now they are taking their livelihoods away as well. My boy is innocent and I think the suspension is ridiculous."

Racing in crisis, page 29