Racing: Trainers banned in crackdown

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THE JOCKEY Club, the body responsible for the integrity of racing, yesterday warned off two individuals found guilty of neglecting horses for a total of 15 years. Vivien Aconley, who held a training licence in Yorkshire until the start of this year, was banned for five years and fined pounds 2,500 and Robert Layland, a former permit holder in Lancashire, banned for 10 years, both with immediate effect.

The penalties - Layland's is the longest for mistreatment since Harry Bell was disqualified for 10 years in 1990 - come in the wake of two recent high-profile cases involving cruelty and unneccessary suffering on stud farms in Suffolk and in Wales.

There is a slight element of stable doors and bolting nags involved in the Jockey Club's action, as neither Layland nor Aconley are currently under Portman Square jurisdiction. But the message is uncompromising. ``If people fail in their duty of care to horses, then heavy penalties will follow,'' John Maxse, the press officer, said. ``The welfare of the horse equates to the welfare of the sport.''

The Jockey Club disciplinary committee, chaired by Christopher Hall, found that Aconley had breached Rule 51 (i), which covers training care and skill, in the case of two juveniles who were removed from her Melrose Farm, Westow, near Malton, in June last year. Veterinary evidence described the horses - a Pharly filly and a Clantime colt - as in "desperate and unacceptable condition, indicative of a significant degree of neglect."

Aconley, 51, had run a small but fairly successful yard during the early Nineties. She tasted success as a permit holder with the multiple chasing winner The Pike, then took out a full licence in 1989 and saddled her first winner in that sphere, Carthagena Cottage, at Southwell in September 1990. Her best were Mega Blue, a winner five times during the 1993-94 campaign, and staying handicapper Far Ahead, both owned by the potato merchant Tony Yates.

In a scenario redolent of a Dick Francis novel, it was a tip-off from Yates, who had taken his horses, including the subsequent Ebor Handicap winner Far Ahead, away from Aconley in 1995 in acrimonious circumstances, which prompted the investigation. He supplied photographs of the youngsters, then roughed off out of training, who were later seen by vets on behalf of the Jockey Club.

Aconley did not renew her licence this year and neither attended Thursday's hearing in London nor offered any evidence, despite being invited several times to do so. Maxse added: ``We do not take such action lightly and if there is any doubt, then the licence holder is given its benefit. Cases like this are often brought about by neglect due to circumstances rather than intentional cruelty.

``But the committee can work only with the evidence they have and no mitigating circumstances or explanations were offered and Mrs Aconley's non-co-operation did not work in her favour. At the time when these horses were in her care on her premises she had a licence and by not looking after them properly she was letting racing down.''

Aconley's husband Peter, breeder of the two two-year-olds, defended their ability to look after horses. ``I've been a stockman for 50 years and we have eight different vets from three practices here for the cattle on the place. I show and sell them at a high level all over the country and we've never had a yearling turned down at Doncaster or Tattersalls.''

Layland's case was also heard in absentia. He had a permit (in effect an amateur's training licence) for four years until 1992 and last year was jailed for three months by Blackburn magistrates and banned from keeping horses and dogs for life after being found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering.