Out of the saddle and into the dock
The sport has something of an image problem, and the Old Bailey race-fixing trial won't help
Sunday 14 October 2007
The image of three jockeys – including six-times champion Kieran Fallon – a professional gambler and a racehorse owner in the dock at the Old Bailey charged with a race-fixing and betting conspiracy will have had the sport's detractors champing at the bit last week. "Knew it all along," they say, and will cling to this view whatever the trial's verdict. For horse-racing, as Keith Waterhouse said about Brighton, "gives the permanent impression of assisting the police with their inquiries".
Why did racing end up with such a lousy image, when over-charging banks, rampaging supermarkets, private equity and opaque hedge funds flit in and out of our pantheon of modern ogres?
Part of the reason may be that racing has a fictional world to back up its vivid actuality. Ever since Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, when razor gangs fought for book-makers' pitches at the town's racecourse, the sport has occupied a shady corner. Two of the most popular authors of racing thrillers are ex-jockeys – Dick Francis and John Francome. And because of who they were, readers believe their plots are based on reality.
Nor does it help that racing's occasional capers have had larger-than-life qualities. In 1973, a horse called Gay Future was in fact a better horse imported to race at Cartmel. To increase the horse's on-course price, soap was rubbed on its body to make punters think it was sweating profusely, but it won by 15 lengths at 10-1. The plotters were convicted and fined.
A 1982 horse that was not the two-year-old Flockton Grey, but a three-year-old called Good Hand, won a race for two-year-olds at Leicester. Unfortunately it won by 20 lengths, immediately arousing suspicions, which led to arrests and a court case.
As supervision and regulation at racecourses improved, plotters ruthlessly resorted to doping to "stop" a favourite.
With enhanced racecourse security and a Jockey Club investigation unit beefed up by former police detectives, the days of the racing scam seemed over. Until the first computer-based betting exchanges opened early this century. You could still back horses to win, but you could also "lay" horses, betting on them to lose.
The people in the shadows of racing could hardly believe their luck – anyone with a smidgeon of inside information about a horse or a trainer's intentions could turn an instant profit. And the quest for that information became feverish.
As the exchanges and racing realised their laxity, audit trails were established and jockeys' mobile phones were registered. So now, when there are irregular betting patterns, the exchanges notify the sport's ruling body and immediate surveillance is imposed.
The aggressive policing has caught several owners and jockeys swapping "presents" for "information". But many jockeys and trainers are now paranoid because the only question they get asked when they're out socially is "got any tips?". One wrong word and they could be down the Bailey.
Latest in Sport
Arsenal transfer news: Arsene Wenger set to cancel moves for Sami Khedira and Morgan Schneiderlin in favour of Jack Wilshere - reports
Cristiano Ronaldo could return against Manchester United - but it won't be like previous reunions
Calum Chambers joins Arsenal: New £16m signing put through Arsenal initiation as he sings The Kooks in front of team-mates
Manchester United transfer news: Mats Hummels, Daley Blind and Thomas Vermaelen on radar as Louis van Gaal reveals he still wants to sign defender
Seydou Keita refuses Pepe handshake before throwing water bottle prior to Roma vs Real Madrid match
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 'Hello mum, this is going to be hard for you to read ...'
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...
£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...
£100 - £145 per day + Pension and travel: Randstad Education Maidstone: SUPPLY...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...