Racing: Little heightens fears over fixing

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STEPHEN LITTLE, one of Britain's most experienced and respected racecourse bookmakers, said yesterday that a growing ``lack of confidence'' in the integrity of racing was a factor in his decision to quit the betting ring.

His comments followed reports that both he and Colin Webster, another veteran bookmaker, had informed the authorities of misgivings about specific races at leading tracks including Newbury, Epsom and Goodwood.

These races are believed to feature in the ongoing Metropolitan Police inquiry into doping and race-fixing.

There have now been 15 arrests as a result of the investigation, including those of the jockeys Graham Bradley and Ray Cochrane, 10 days ago. It emerged yesterday that Cochrane was questioned about a four-horse race at Epsom on 24 September 1996, which was described by Timeform as ``a virtual match on paper'' between Cochrane's mount, Double Leaf, and the eventual winner, Magellan.

The latter attracted strong support, and made all the running, while Double Leaf drifted sharply in the pre-race betting. According to Timeform, Double Leaf ``travelled well under restraint but, coming down the centre of the track in the straight, saw plenty of daylight and never reached the winner.''

It was Webster who drew the race to the attention of the Jockey Club's security department. Little, meanwhile, said yesterday that he had expressed his own disquiet about two more races, at Goodwood and Newbury.

The latter event was the Geoffrey Gilbey Handicap Chase on 28 February 1997, another four-runner race, which was won by Kings Cherry, ridden by Carl Llewellyn. The second-favourite, High Alltitude, was ridden by Dean Gallagher, who was arrested in connection with the investigation almost a year ago. He has been bailed to report to Charing Cross police station on 10 March. Bradley and Cochrane have also been bailed but, like seven others, have not been charged.

Little has long been renowned in the betting ring for his willingness to accept a serious bet, but recently announced that he intends to give up his pitches at racecourses throughout the country. His decision, he now says, was influenced at least in part by increasing concerns about the integrity of racing.

``I always try to avoid having suspicions,'' he said yesterday. ``It's easy to think that when you lose, you've been robbed, and there are plenty of straight races that I've lost on, there's no doubt about that. But sometimes you can't escape the conclusion, and in recent months it's been getting very hard to lay horses which should be layable. I'm not talking about 33-1 shots, I'm talking about favourites and second-favourites, and it seems that if I can't lay them, they can't win.''

Little feels that the racing authorities may have sent out an unfortunate signal as long ago as 1995, when a horse called Jibereen won a race at Chepstow. The contest marked Declan Murphy's return to race-riding after a near-fatal fall, and it was Murphy himself who partnered the winner, who started a strongly-backed 3-1 favourite. Other jockeys who rode in the race denied any collusion, but a report was sent to the Jockey Club. Subsequently it was decided not to hold a formal inquiry into the race.

The length of the police probe has prompted criticism from some quarters of the racing industry, notably the British Horseracing Board itself.

Tristram Ricketts, the BHB's chief executive, commented last week that the Board would welcome a swift conclusion to the inquiry, which has yet to result in any formal charges. If there is any basis for Little's concerns, however, then there can be no doubt that the investigation must be as full and prolonged as the police deem necessary.

It is only natural for many in the tightly-knit racing world to sympathise with those who have been arrested, particularly anyone who has spent months on bail without being charged. Race-fixing, however, is the most serious threat the sport can ever face, since even doping does not have the same power to diminish public confidence in its integrity.


Nap: Delight Of Dawn

(Southwell 12.30)

NB: Southdown Lad

(Doncaster 3.50)