Racing: Yet another winner for Jack the lad

Libel case: The gambling husband of the trainer Lynda Ramsden now has an extra pounds 50,000 to bet with.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
JACK RAMSDEN has built a reputation for embarking on a gamble only when there are long odds on offer so it came as something of a surprise when he announced that he was going to sue The Sporting Life for libel.

Jack likes a bit of value and speculating in a two-horse race at short odds with scope for heavy financial defeat is not really his modus operandi. He must have been quite confident.

The punting icon's self-belief was once again upheld yesterday. The newspaper must now pay costs estimated at pounds 500,000 and almost pounds 200,000 to the plaintiffs themselves, and heaven knows what Jack might turn his pounds 50,000 into at the racecourse.

It may also mean a new leisure pool with slides and fountains for the Ramsdens' string at Sandhutton, near Thirsk. Part of the evidence in this case chronicled the 1989 victory in a Leicester seller of a moderate four- year-old gelding called Arbory Street. His success was most notable for the sum it netted the husband of the winning trainer, Lynda Ramsden. Jack Ramsden invested pounds 1,500 to win and pounds 500 a place at 14-1. The returns bought an equine pool at Breckenborough House, from where the Ramsdens have trained for 14 years.

The yard in James Herriot country was little more than a pig sty when the couple took residence. Today it is a Champneys for horses. There are 52 boxes, one and a half miles of all-weather gallops equipped with a timing machine and automatic watering system, a laboratory for blood-testing horses and a weighing machine. And, of course, the pool, a symbol to the punting shrewdness of the man of the yard.

Not all the money has been re-invested on the horses, however, if this month's fashion parade at the High Court is to be taken as crucial evidence. Back in Yorkshire, Jack and Lynda may also have all-weather walk-in wardrobes judged on the splendid variety of their outfits.

From within the clothes there were persuasive performances from both throughout. Lynda Ramsden looked nothing less than indignant on every occasion her honesty was challenged, her face contorting most at The Sporting Life's accusation of "cheating". Jack would not believe she was untruthful even if his wife herself insisted on it. "When I set out on this whole mission I always felt I would be really surprised if anyone could ever prove in a court of law that Lynda was a liar and a cheat," Jack said yesterday. "That's been my main conviction from the start.

"All Lynda wants to have is winners so if I suggested anything like that [betting skulduggery] at the breakfast table she would be mortified. The betting consideration of mine is totally secondary to trying to have winners for our owners."

Jack is not a man poisoned with self-doubt and he, along with the original author of the damaging piece, The Sporting Life's associate editor, Alastair Down, were not abashed by the grandeur of the highest civil court in the land. They even managed to snatch the slipper out of the headmaster's hand, each firing back unexpectedly under fierce barrister attack.

The bullets, arrows and missiles were flying around Court 13 for almost a month, but the big bombs seem to have been reserved for the body racing as a whole. The sport is cloyingly close, a sort of Waltons on the turf, with a sense of community no other sport possesses. This February, though, at the High Court, racing's representatives have looked more like the Borgias with dripping daggers.

The most dramatic chapter came when Derek Thompson said that Kieren Fallon, the champion jockey, had told him in a Newmarket pub that he had pulled Top Cees. That was denied by Fallon, though the idea that the plug has been pulled on their relationship is not disputed.

The Ramsdens, plus friends, family and legal representatives expressed their relief by negotiating the traffic on the Strand late yesterday afternoon and slipping into Daly's Wine Bar on Essex Street. "We'll have a glass or two of champagne and a decent meal," Jack said, "the same as we've done for the last four weeks."

When The Sporting Life team emerged they had the look of men who would not have been worried if they did not manage to negotiate the traffic at all. "We fought a good fight and we got beat and there's no point whingeing about it," Alastair Down said. "It's not been a good day for press and punters."

Tom Clarke, The Sporting Life's editor, added: "We think it is a sad day for racing, but we do not regret defending this action for one moment." Certainly no apology then, but then sorry seems to be the hardest word. Cheating is certainly the most expensive one.

Heard in court

"Hold the horse up for as long as you can, so he can get the mile [and] six." Lynda Ramsden's version of the Swaffham riding instructions to Kieren Fallon.

"I thought the horse would win as well, but when I got in the paddock Jack told me to stop it." Derek Thompson's version of what Fallon told him in a pub that night.

"He's a liar," Fallon on Thompson.

"Is he allowed to call me a liar?" Thompson's question to judge under cross examination from Patrick Milmo QC for the Ramsdens and Fallon.

"I am not a liar." Mrs Ramsden.

"By and large, they are a bunch of failed punters and tipsters, who seem to resent success." Mrs Ramsden on the southern-based noblemen of the press room.

"That man sitting at the back - he's a failed bookmaker and punter." Mrs Ramsden on Channel 4's John McCririck.

"He talks a lot." Mrs Ramsden again, on the television role of McCririck.

"I don't like Mr [Jack] Ramsden much and I steer clear of him." Jim McGrath, Channel 4 presenter.

"I've been married to my wife for 20 years. I don't think my activities resemble some of those that Mr Havers has got up to for 20 years." Jack Ramsden on being compared to Nigel Havers and his eponymous role in The Charmer.

"Mr [Mark] Winstanley [The Sporting Life's betting expert], he's got a good reputation hasn't he?" Richard Hartley, QC to the Mirror Group. "What as?" Jack Ramsden.

"I think Jack is a very clever man and I think on occasion he thinks he can outflank the authorities." Alastair Down, The Sporting Life associate editor, on Ramsden.

"You know nothing about timing of racehorses. You are talking absolute nonsense." Mr Ramsden to Mr Hartley.

"You know nothing." Mr Milmo to Raceform senior correspondent and racereader for 33 years, Alan Amies.

"I have a terrible [disciplinary] record altogether, you could say probably the worst record of any jockey." Fallon.