Racing: Riders can race again as Jockey Club climbs down

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The Independent Online
The three jockeys suspended by the Jockey Club last week after being questioned, but not charged, by police investigating race-fixing and doping will be allowed to ride from tomorrow following a volte-face by racing's disciplinary body. Richard Edmondson reports.

When the Jockey Club banned Jamie Osborne, Dean Gallagher and Leighton Aspell last week, it also announced a meeting for today when the riders could "make any further representations as to why that suspension should not be continued for a longer period". In the event, there will be no explanation required and the trio will simply have their licences returned at Portman Square.

The Jockey Club's reason for its reversal of attitude is simple: they asked people. Or in mandarin-speak they took "soundings within the industry". There will, however, be no official apology. The Jockey Club maintains it acted correctly to maintain public confidence.

The only loss of confidence was not in the betting shop or at the racecourse - where turnover figures have actually been higher than usual in the last week - but within the Jockey Club itself. Having made the decision to ban the riders based on fear of public reaction, the Club found that it was running against the tide of opinion and did an about turn.

Christopher Foster, the Jockey Club's executive director, said yesterday: "The Licensing Committee still requires the jockeys to attend [today's meeting] because it wishes there to be no room for doubt at to why the Committee suspended the licences." This is just as well as the space remains large.

"Not only has it been a difficult week for the jockeys, but also highly confusing," Michael Caulfield, the secretary of the Jockeys' Association, said yesterday. "The behaviour of the Jockey Club has been curious to say the least and we look forward to our meeting with them tomorrow. It will be a unique feeling to go to the Jockey Club already knowing the result.

"If it had not been for the representations made by the jockeys' solicitors, the three riders may, I believe, have been suspended until 29 April or beyond. I am terribly aware of the seriousness of the past week's events, but the Jockey Club did not apply natural justice and this had to be challenged."

Andrew Chalk, Osborne's solicitor, said: "I would like to make it clear that the decision to hold a further meeting tomorrow resulted from vigorous representations made by the jockeys' solicitors. At the outset, the Committee gave no indication they were considering suspensions on a short-term basis.

"The Committee did not inform us that they would be taking soundings of the industry to assess the risk to public confidence in horseracing and it is surprising that this was not made clear to us."

"We were told that we could return on 4 February so that we could make further representations as to why the suspensions 'should not be continued for a longer period'. That appeared to put the onus on us to show good reasons why the licences should be reinstated."

It is the residual effect of the last week that most bothers the jockeys and their supporters. "The loss of character is more of a problem than loss of earnings," Graeme James, Aspell's agent, said. "To the public it's something that won't go away in a hurry and he'll be remembered for some time as being one of the 'weighing-room three'."

The conditional (apprentice) jockey's main trainer, Josh Gifford, added: "I would like an explanation from the Jockey Club. Leighton is a conditional [jockey] and I'm meant to be responsible for him. It's an absolute joke. They've got themselves in a bloody great hole and now they can't get out of it."

Aspell is likely to be the first of the three in action. "I'm looking forward to getting back on the racecourse so I can concentrate on winning," he said.

That opportunity may come tomorrow on Gifford's New Rising at Towcester. It will be a significant moment in a case which has hardly highlighted the Jockey Club's capabilities.