Racing: Smith travels home light: Weatherbys clears Tuesday's coup of the hint of skulduggery but the bookies still refuse to pay out

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The Independent Online
ALLAN SMITH, the Belgian- based trainer who landed a substantial off-course betting coup at Folkestone on Tuesday, boarded the ferry for home yesterday. His winnings did not go with him.

The Betting Office Licensees' Association (BOLA) is continuing its investigations into 'unusual betting patterns' surrounding the race, and advising its members not to pay out winning bets on Old Hook, who took the seller at the Kent track at 20-1. Off-course wagers were placed by members of Smith's family just before the start, to prevent the bookmakers 'blowing' the money back to the course to shorten Old Hook's starting price.

What little substance there is to BOLA's prevarication involves alleged confusion over the winner's identity. But even that small justification was removed yesterday by information from the Jockey Club.

The Club informed BOLA that Weatherbys, racing's 'civil service', had accepted responsibility for Old Hook's previous form being unavailable to the public when he ran at Folkestone. When finishing fifth of six at Brighton on 27 May, Old Hook ran without the (IRE) suffix which he carried on Tuesday, and thus his earlier form was omitted from newspapers. The bookmakers smelled something that might save them.

The squirt of air freshener was provided by Simon Clare, a Jockey Club spokesman. 'There is nothing underhand or suspicious about the episode,' he said. 'Weatherbys have held up their hands to admit they are at fault. The trainer entered the horse as Old Hook both times, the addition of the (IRE) suffix is the responsibility of Weatherbys. Steps will be made to ensure the same thing doesn't happen again.

'The fact the horse won and the connections backed it makes the episode appear more dramatic than it really is.'

Smith said after Old Hook's success that he had wanted to make the bookies 'squeal'. Graham Sharpe, spokesman for William Hill, obliged him yesterday, saying: 'We have now looked at all the betting on the day and by far the heaviest- backed horse was the runner-up, Window Display. So we are not talking through our pocket.'

'Thousands of doubles and accumulators went down with Old Hook's shock victory. Those who backed the runner- up are bound to be interested in the result of the inquiry.'

Punters, though, are used to losing. The bookmakers seem to find it unbearable - witness the similar outburst when the shrewdly-backed Jo N Jack won at 33-1 last September. Sharpe's apparent concern for backers, meanwhile, would not have extended to offering the family Smith their money back had Old Hook finished last.

The seller at Folkestone on Tuesday did involve an 'unusual betting pattern'. What was unusual, indeed extraordinary, was that a group of people managed to walk into a betting shop and back a cunningly-prepared probable winner at long odds. The scheme had imagination, audacity and even a little romance, but certainly no criminality.

By continuing to delay their payment, BOLA is behaving like a spoiled child, wanting to play the game only when the outcome is certain victory. The bookmakers, normally so adroit at public relations, deserve all the contempt that they are currently attracting.

(Photograph omitted)

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