The fact that racing's governing body yesterday left its official response to men named Gunn and Coward made it hard to resist the observation that the race-fixing trial at the Old Bailey had ended not with a bang, but a whimper. But the words of both implied a common defiance.
Ben Gunn, who initiated the whole fiasco by passing a file of complaint to police in early 2004, insisted that he had no regrets over that decision. And Nic Coward, though appointed chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) too recently to be tainted by the shambles, left any lessons from the collapse of the case against Kieren Fallon and five others, last Friday, in the slow, bland care of an internal review.
Nobody, certainly, was prepared to concede that it was asking for trouble to submit complex, opaque material to others that might struggle to understand it. The BHA is instead at such pains to wash its hands of the whole affair that Paul Scotney, ridiculed for his performance in the witness box, is to keep his position as head of security.
Quite rightly, the police and Crown Prosecution Service are getting most of the blame for the ham-fisted allegations they made at an estimated cost of 10m. The BHA maintains that the matter was "wholly" out of its hands once handed to the police. Gunn, a non-executive director with special responsibility for integrity, and himself a former chief constable, was anxious to dismiss "ill-informed and distorted" impressions arising from the case.
The Jockey Club had not as suggested in court tried and failed to interest other police authorities before finally engaging the interest of the City of London police. "That is simply not true," Gunn said. Nor was it the case that the police had been promised funding, albeit the matter had been discussed. At an early stage Gunn had emphasised that such assistance was not in his gift, and a formal application from the police, finally received in August this year, had been rejected.
Gunn also reiterated that Fallon had not been the focus of the original material, which instead concerned Miles Rodgers. Rodgers had already been punished under the Rules of Racing, and suspicions that he was still laying horses dishonestly could not be proved without recourse to police powers. In the same circumstances, Gunn said he would take exactly the same action again.
As Coward pointed out, however, the environment has now changed. A new criminal charge of "cheating" is available, and so is a new intermediate body, the Gambling Commission. A review by Dame Elizabeth Neville, already under way, would consider the trial in establishing clear procedures and terms of reference for the sport's dealings with the criminal law.
As for Scotney, he is still to be asked about a complaint apparently made by Alan Jarvis, and brought to his attention during cross-examination at the Old Bailey. According to a defence counsel, the trainer alleges that Scotney had been overheard, "in drink", vowing to get Fallon if it was the last thing he did. Coward said that these claims would be addressed, though noted that Scotney had denied them.
While accepting that Scotney's performance as a witness had not been "as strong as it should have been", Gunn reiterated that the fatal choice of an Australian steward as expert witness had been nothing to do with the BHA. He also disclosed that the BHA's offer of employment to Mark Manning, the officer who led the investigation, has now been withdrawn. This was merely a "pragmatic" judgement on the level of co-operation Manning might expect from the industry following his role in the case.
With the BHA yet to address any breaches of its rules arising from the prosecution, it must be hoped that a similar sense of realism will prevail. As it is, Scotney will surely do well to retrieve the confidence of most racing professionals.
* The hot streak of trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Sam Thomas continued when O'Maley made all the running in the Wellpool Building And Maintenance Beginners' Chase at Font-well yesterday. The 100-30 shot was always travelling well, in contrast to the favourite Mendo who took a crashing fall five fences from home.Reuse content