Racing: Suspended jockeys booked for return

The sounding out by the Jockey Club of opinion in key sectors of the racing industry is likely to lead to the three suspended riders regaining their licences tomorrow. Richard Edmondson reports.

Two of the three jockeys suspended from racing following doping and race-fixing allegations may be back in action by the end of the week.

The growing feeling yesterday was that the Jockey Club is about to annul its verdict of last Wednesday, a suggestion nurtured by early bookings for Dean Gallagher and Leighton Aspell. Jamie Osborne, the third man under suspicion, remains incapacitated by a wrist injury.

Gallagher has already been pencilled in to ride Claudia Electric at Sandown on Saturday. "If Dean gets his licence back, he rides her," Claire Johnsey, the trainer, said yesterday. "I don't believe any of it because all he's done for us is try his best.

"He won on her first time out and would have a second time at Fontwell but she swallowed her tongue. I hope the Jockey Club sees sense and gives the licences back."

The venue for the second meeting between the jockeys, their solicitors and three members of the Jockey Club's Licensing Committee will be announced today. There will be no attempt to hold the meeting at a secret location as last week. "That was rather exceptional and I think we were right to try to hold it out of the public glare," John Maxse, the Jockey Club spokesman, said yesterday.

The Chairman on the bench, as before, will be Gurney Sheppard. The remaining two places will be permed from the five other members of the Licensing Committee, and it is not impossible that Philip Blacker, the former jump jockey, and David Gibson, a horse breeder, will again sit in judgement.

The Jockey Club originally asked the jockeys to present evidence to persuade that their licences should be returned. Now, they may not even have to do that.

Word from the Square - and for improbable plots Portman has rivalled Albert this past week - is that Christopher Foster, the Club's Executive Director, is to recommend an early end to the suspensions.

The Jockey Club hastily withdrew the licences last week in the belief that they would be assuaging public opinion. They got it wrong. The reaction has been almost 100 per cent behind the riders. The Jockey Club is now prone to the belief that it is no longer in the driver's seat, but is as much in control as a drunk in the back of a taxi.

Foster was yesterday continuing to "take soundings" on what other sections of the racing community thought about the suspensions. Making such critical decisions based on market research rather than because of the Club's own concept of what constitutes just and appropriate action seems an abrogation of its responsibility as racing's disciplinary body. While the fate of the three riders hangs in the balance there is little doubt that the Jockey Club has managed to attract a great deal of bad publicity over their treatment of the jockeys.

The jockeys' lawyers are likely to argue tomorrow that a continuation of the suspensions would represent a restraint of trade. There might even be discussion of compensation. "Leighton would have ridden Monnaie Forte at Ayr, one of two winners he missed in three days," Graeme James, the jockey's agent, said yesterday. "That's cost him pounds 2,000 and he needs to get back into action.

"The publicity is as important as the money and if he's off any longer then others will replace him and it's not so easy to get back on the horses. I'm not going to pre-judge things but if he does get his licence back then there are rides available for him on Friday and Saturday. I hope common sense prevails."

A sixth person was arrested yesterday in connection with the swoop on racing. "A 34-year-old man voluntarily attended Charing Cross police station by arrangement with his solicitors and was arrested in connection with an inquiry into horse-doping and race-fixing," a Scotland Yard spokesman said. The man has been bailed to 29 April.

Much of the background to these arrests has yet to reach the public domain, and until charges are made a stench of uncertainty hangs over the sport. "The initial investigations were carried out by our security department and they continue to participate with the police in the ongoing investigation," John Maxse said yesterday. "I'm not in full possession of the facts, but I'm sure there are other people in this building who are." It might soon be time for those people to come out into the sunlight.