Fallon race-fixing charges 'ridiculous'

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The Independent Online

The counsel representing Kieren Fallon yesterday tore into "ridiculous" allegations that he had been central to a race-fixing conspiracy, telling the Old Bailey that the prosecution had shown "something approaching desperation" in trying to square its case even with its own submissions.

Responding to a two-day opening statement from the Crown, John Kelsey-Fry QC noted that Fallon's strike-rate on the horses he had supposedly been prepared to stop was even higher than the average that had made him champion jockey six times. And he matched patterns of telephone contact and betting produced by the prosecution with other occasions, consistent with the innocuous exchange of views and opinions about horses.

Fallon is one of six defendants, including two other jockeys, who all deny a charge of conspiracy to defraud customers of the online betting exchange, Betfair. The men charged are Fallon, 42, formerly of Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, but now of Tipperary, Ireland; Fergal Lynch, 29, of Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire; his brother Shaun Lynch, 37, of Belfast; Darren Williams, 29, of Leyburn, North Yorkshire; Miles Rodgers, 38, of Silkstone, South Yorkshire; and Philip Sherkle, 42, of Tamworth, Staffordshire. Rodgers also denies concealing the proceeds of crime.

Rodgers has been accused of orchestrating a plot to make 27 horses lose, between December 2002 and August 2004, in order to guarantee profitable bets. Seventeen of these horses had been ridden by Fallon, described by Kelsey-Fry as "a man driven by a desire to win". Fallon, now seated among his legal team, listened as Kelsey-Fry explored how the Crown had dealt with the fact that Fallon had won five races, costing Betfair accounts controlled by Rodgers a net loss of £338,000.

During the period of the alleged conspiracy, Fallon had won on 19 per cent of his mounts. When supposedly riding for a conspiracy to stop horses, however, his strike-rate went up to 29.4 per cent. According to the prosecution's reasoning, Fallon's "win rate was 150 per cent higher when he was trying to lose than when he was trying to win".

One of the winners, Daring Aim, was a cussed, reluctant filly who had only won because of what the trade newspaper, Racing Post, described as an outstanding ride. "On the Crown's allegation, it is supposed to be a willing horse and an unwilling jockey, not a reluctant horse and an utterly determined jockey, Kelsey-Fry said. "With over £105,000 of his co-conspirators' money at stake, if the Crown are right, rather than take advantage of a gilt-edged opportunity to lose without any blame... Kieren Fallon deployed all his skills in order to win."

The prosecution had indicated that an Australian steward, Ray Murrihy, would offer his reservations about tactics used by Fallon on six horses, including two winners. But Kelsey-Fry traced his objections to one winner, Barking Mad, to a difference in the racing culture in Australia, where winners are not eased down, and to the other, Beauvrai, by an ignorance of the instructions from the trainer.

It was the habit of riders here not to ride out horses which accounted for the one occasion when Fallon's actions had clearly prevented a horse from winning, at Lingfield in March 2004, when caught close home after prematurely easing Ballinger Ridge. Fallon had failed to see the danger when looking over his shoulder, because the horse was tucked against the rail.

When he did see him, he sought to retrieve the situation but it was just too late, and he was beaten in a photo. If deliberate, Kelsey-Fry said, these were hardly the actions of the man portrayed as anxious not to draw attention to his corrupt intentions, and to stop his mounts with subtle riding. Between Ballinger Ridge and the success of Russian Rhythm at Newbury in May, which cost the Rodgers accounts £160,000, Fallon had ridden a horse named Gamut at Newbury in April. As in the races under review by the prosecution, there had been telephone contact between Fallon and the Lynch brothers. Rodgers had in turn laid Gamut to lose £150,000. Kelsey-Fry then played a video of the finish, in which Fallon nearly pulls the race out of the fire with a very strong finish, beaten a whisker.

The introduction of Gamut caused "an insuperable problem" for the prosecution. They would have to acknowledge either that the patterns were consistent with those in the 27 races that had aroused their suspicion, even though Fallon was palpably doing his best; or that Rodgers was willing to risk £150,000 without an assurance from the jockey that the horse would be stopped if necessary. "Either way it is fatal to the allegation," Kelsey-Fry said.

He said that Fallon, as champion jockey, was constantly being asked for his opinion, and was often content to oblige. Among the others charged, Fergal Lynch, a jockey, and his brother, Shaun, he had known since childhood; while Philip Sherkle became a friend with whom Fallon would also share his opinions.

Kelsey-Fry recalled that the prosecution – who identified Shaun Lynch and Sherkle as intermediaries to Rodgers – had made much of a recovered text message, from Fallon to Sherkle, interpreting the letter "n" next to a horse as an indication that it would be a non-trier. Now he revealed other messages, including one encouraging Sherkle "to have a little each way" on a horse, and another applying the letter "p" to a horse in much the same way that the letter "n" had been used. Kelsey-Fry indicated that these letters respectively denoted "negative" and "positive" – or "not fancy" and "fancy".

He told the jury: "When the prosecution say to you: 'n' equals 'I will stop', please put it into the context of 'p' equals 'fancy'... You might like to note the following indisputable fact: of the two 'n' texts recovered from Fallon's phones... both of the horses won."

Earlier the counsel for Rodgers, John Kelson QC, had asked the jury to treat the bets isolated by the prosecution as consistent with his client's overall betting history. He also cautioned them that one of the police investigators central to the case, Mark Manning, had been due to retire and had since been offered a new post by the Jockey Club, which had first brought these allegations to the police's attention.

The case was adjourned until today, when the jury will hear evidence from Betfair.