Racing: Ramsden `horrified' by allegation

Jack and Lynda Ramsden, whose libel action against The Sporting Life is expected to reach its conclusion this week, both returned to the witness box yesterday following allegations made on Friday morning that Jack Ramsden had ordered Kieren Fallon, the champion jockey, to "stop" a horse in a race at Newmarket in 1995.

The claim was made by Derek Thompson, a presenter with Channel 4 Racing, who reported a conversation with Fallon in the Old Plough Inn near Newmarket a few hours after the Swaffham Handicap, in which the jockey finished fifth on Top Cees. He told the High Court that "I was asking, 'what happened with Top Cees this afternoon, I thought he would win', and Kieren's words were, `I thought he would win as well, but when I got into the paddock, Jack told me to stop it'."

Yesterday, Jack Ramsden denied that any such conversation had taken place, and said he was "horrified" by the allegation. "The first thing I did was ring Mr Fallon to see if there was the remotest truth in it," he said. "I couldn't believe it. I was pretty appalled at anyone suggesting anything like that."

Ramsden said that the instructions he had given to Fallon would have been the same as those he gave for "90 per cent" of his horses, to settle the horse and do his best. He denied a suggestion by Richard Hartley QC, representing The Sporting Life, that he had "decided the horse should not be allowed to run on its merits" in the Swaffham Handicap because a widespread tip in the morning papers had caused its price to shrink to 6-1, which Ramsden did not consider to be a value bet. Ramsden, though, said that he knew the owner of Top Cees had staked pounds 400 each-way on his horse, and that he "would not have any owners left in the yard if they do not trust me".

Ramsden denied having talked to Colin Webster, a rails bookmaker, before the start of the Swaffham Handicap. Earlier in the trial, he had admitted that Webster, who is an owner at the Ramsden's yard in Yorkshire, pays him pounds 5,000 a year for "information". "How would you react," Hartley asked him yesterday, "if one of your employees had an arrangement like that?" Ramsden replied: "I would be very disappointed and very surprised."

He also insisted that Fallon would never have referred to him as "Jack", even though he agreed with Hartley that Fallon had called his wife "Lynda" on six occasions while giving evidence earlier in the trial. When Lynda Ramsden took the stand, she told Patrick Milmo QC, representing both the Ramsdens and Fallon, that "I've always said to him, `call me Lynda', but he always refers to my husband as Mr Ramsden."

Cross-examined by Hartley, Lynda Ramsden said that she had no interest in betting. "I'm not interested and I don't get involved," she said. Hartley then asked: "Or is it that you shut your eyes?" "No," she said, "I'm not interested in gambling. My husband is his own man, he doesn't tell me what he's had a bet on."

Earlier, Mrs Ramsden was pressed as to whether her husband could have spoken to Fallon without her knowledge. "I am suggesting," Hartley said, "that it would have been the easiest thing in the world."

"We didn't split up into twos or threes," she responded. "In the paddock at Newmarket, you need to keep together or you would probably get separated." When asked if her husband had told Fallon to stop Top Cees, she said: "We have never ever said that to a jockey so there was no reason why we should start there?"

The plaintiffs are suing over an article in The Sporting Life in May 1995, the day after Top Cees won the Chester Cup, which accused them of "cheating". Mirror Group Newspapers, publishers of The Sporting Life, deny libel, on the grounds that the article was justified and fair comment on a matter of public interest. The case continues today, when the counsels are expected to deliver their closing speeches.

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