Findlay overturns ban for breaching betting rules

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The Independent Online

It remains exasperating, not just for Harry Findlay but for the good name of the sport, that an ordeal like this was ever made necessary. Before anyone gets too despondent, however, at least the same independence of outlook that first prompted his extraordinary punishment has now, in turn, provided him with due reprieve.

Findlay yesterday learnt that he had been successful in his appeal against a six-month disqualification for breaching the rules against owners laying bets against their own horses. The British Horseracing Authority's disciplinary panel had originally seemed to take an exceedingly literal view, punishing Findlay severely even though he had simply "hedged" bets already struck about his horse, Gullible Gordon, and remained a substantial net backer. They had decided that his offence warranted a suspension twice as long as that handed to the owner who assaulted Kieren Fallon at Lingfield in March.

But the BHA always stressed that the panel was independent, and no less so the appeals board, chaired by Sir Roger Buckley, which heard Findlay's case on Wednesday and yesterday reduced his punishment to a fine of £4,500. This sum is equivalent to the improvement in his position when laying bets "in running" on Betfair against Gullible Gordon at Chepstow last year.

Findlay, who has found this whole experience a shattering emotional strain, expressed his relief in characteristic fashion. "After two minutes listening to Sir Roger Buckley, I knew I was shorter than 1.01 to get the disqualification overturned," he said. "He was so impressive. He was flanked by two other panellists who, like him, obviously had a thorough knowledge of the case – and this is all I wanted. After undoubtedly the toughest four weeks of my life, I very nearly actually smiled when he spoke of a 'gambler's instinct'. I knew then he understood the case and, in my language, he was simply 'the governor'."

He issued many votes of thanks, including to Paul Barber, the man with whom he forged such an engaging alliance, in the ownership of the top-class Denman, as well as Gullible Gordon. His gratitude did not extend to Paul Nicholls, who trained both horses, and whose yard he has already left during the course of this saga. Denman is now owned outright by Barber, and Big Fella Thanks by Findlay, who has moved him to Ferdy Murphy's care.

Findlay's lawyers, Daryl Cowan and Roderick Moore, also issued a statement. "We are delighted and, frankly, relieved for Harry and for racing," they said. "There was no corruption, no intention to profit at the expense of others, and he was entirely open about what he did. Many members of the public would be surprised to be told what he did was against the rules. A disqualification was plainly wrong, and the appeal board, to their great credit, agreed."

The panel in turn acknowledged: "The lay bets were a relatively small part of an overall back bet and... no one lost unfairly. There was no suggestion that the integrity of the race was in jeopardy. It is clear that Mr Findlay's best financial interests lay in the horse winning." The original panel had failed to make sufficient allowance for those circumstances taking this case "outside the real object of the rule".

The appeals board, while stressing that this case did not offer a blanket precedent for incorporating lay bets into an overall strategy, also emphasised that Findlay had suffered considerably through the indignity of a month's prohibition. During this time, he had been obliged to miss Royal Ascot and the chance to see one of his horses win there.

But the BHA should be absolved of any culpability, according to its director of communications, Paul Struthers. "As this case conclusively highlights, the disciplinary panel and appeal board are independent of the authority and reach their own conclusions based on the evidence and material presented to them," he said. "The authority's role is to set the rules and guideline penalties, then charge and prosecute when necessary. In this case, we maintain it was absolutely right to charge Mr Findlay. He had clearly breached the rules, despite having previously been reminded of them and his responsibilities. The rules must apply equally to everyone. As the appeal board [members] say themselves, 'it is hard to envisage any excuses for its breach in future'."

There would duly be no revision of the rules. "Disciplinary panels have at their disposal flexibility with regards to penalty," Struthers said. "And a vast range for this offence itself: three months to 10 years. They are guidelines, and the panel is fully entitled to go outside those guidelines when they feel justified, as they have done in the past. Consequently, we have no intention of amending this rule in any material way."

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

River Ardeche (9.20 Hamilton) Had slipped down the weights before recent revival at Pontefract, doing especially well after letting the winner control the pace. Stays farther, and should profit from return to more positive tactics.

Next best

Chicane (8.40 Pontefract) Looked ready for extra furlong and stiffer track when finding top gear in the closing stages of her third maiden at Goodwood last month.

One to watch

Layline (R M Beckett) Pulled seven lengths clear of the rest when just run out of things at Lingfield on Wednesday.

Where the money's going

Hawkeyethenoo is now joint-favourite at 8-1 from 10-1 for the Blue Square Stewards' Cup with Totesport.