The need to remove racing uncertainty

It reads like the synopsis for a Dick Francis novel. A relatively modest racehorse, burdened with the name Bo Knows Nigel, is suddenly backed from a morning price of 16-1 down to 2-1 for an event at an even more modest track, Folkestone. But when the horse gets to the racecourse, it is withdrawn after a vet's certificate is produced to say it has been coughing. The gamble is thwarted. But then the local stewards insist that the horse is dope-tested, and it comes up positive for steroids.

The trainer, Geoff Lewis, who has only had the horse for 10 days, puts his hands up and says, "Not me, guv", and asks for an analysis of the second sample, which is undertaken by a French laboratory.

Meanwhile, Bo Knows Nigel changes stables yet again and later winds up dead after injuring itself in a Boxing Day race. A few days later, the Jockey Club announces that the investigation into the alleged doping incident will be dropped after the second test revealed a much diminished, and therefore acceptable, level of steroids. Other, non-specified investigations will continue, they say, amid great smiles of relief all round. But all this has taken place over a span of four and a half months, and thosewho analysed the original sample, the Horserace Forensic Laboratory in Newmarket, stand by their methods. So where does that leave racing?

Well, at this stage it looks like yet another incident is to be left unexplained, pushed to one side, left to gather dust in that wire in-tray containing files on the hurdler Her Honour, tested positive for a stopping drug last year, and the Flat horses Bravefoot and Norwich, who were both found to have been nobbled at the St Leger meeting in 1990. None of these cases has yet produced a satisfactory explanation.

In fairness, one should say that the Jockey Club, who retain control of security and disciplinary matters despite the formation of the British Horseracing Board, have taken some steps to ensure that the incidences of doped racehorses are squeezed out of the system. Racecourse stables are now equipped with cameras to prevent interference with horses before a race, and they insist that their betting intelligence services - all doping attempts are linked to money, one way or the other - are stronger than ever. For all the Jockey Club's efforts, there remains a suspicion that, in an area as contentious and important as this, they should be doing even more to maintain the image they wish to portray of racing as an unblemished sport.

One wonders, though, if they can truly escape the purging which two other major sports, athletics and football, are now having to undertake. In both cases, complacent administrations were forced by circumstances supposedly under, yet actually beyond, their control into what will be a prolonged period of in-house repairs. Racing has yet to endure such public scrutiny - the Lester Piggott tax-dodging affair, and the Grand National fiasco of 1993 have been the nearest they have had to come to wider-scale investigation and ridicule. But its own date with the Augean Stables may not be too long in coming.

For while the self-elected Jockey Club is quick to dispense feudal justice to any scrawny jockey who offends its codes, they seem less sure about taking on the big boys and the big issues. Indeed, you sometimes imagine that if they were to catch a man ina hooped vest and mask climbing a drain-pipe of their offices in Portman Square, London, they would take the view that he was doing a jolly good job cleaning the windows.

The decision, just before Christmas, to fine the leading trainer Martin Pipe, and his second jockey Jonathan Lower, just £750 each for an offence under the "non-triers" rule, may be a case in point. Their horse Encore Un Peu - a name which might provide an apt motto for the Jockey Club itself - looked to have been blatantly "pulled" in a race at Warwick on 15 November.

In the betting ring at the course, there was a certain lack of confidence in the horse, who drifted from 6-4 out to 2-1, before coming in again to 15-8. The race-readers' comments on the action - "raced keenly, close up, lost place 5th, still going well approaching two out, shaken up and ran on strongly flat" - give a clear picture of the horse's under-performance in finishing four lengths second.

A previous case of "non-trying" in 1991 resulted in a three-month ban for a trainer, while last year looks like another case of the Jockey Club being "soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime". If this blinkered approach persists, skulduggery in racingwill indeed be passed off as the stuff of Dick Francis. But in Dick Francis, the wrong-doers are at least caught and brought to appropriate justice.

There will be those who see in the fate of the former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton further evidence of the pernicious combination of betting and horse-racing. They will add Shilton's name to a list which includes the former QPR forward Stanley Bowles, of whom one of his managers, Ernie Tagg, said: "If he could pass a betting-shop like he can pass a ball he'd have no worries at all." They will tell you stories about the ex-international who is still managing, unlike the unfortunate Shilton, a club onthe south coast of England and who once engineered his own transfer in order to pay off the gambling debts that he had accumulated.

What they won't be able to say is what it must have been like to be picking up thousands of pounds a week while having three or four afternoons a week off. They won't know the thrill of slipping away to the nearest racecourse to be feted by all the otherrefugees from conventional life. To be bought drinks and told jokes. And the last thing they'll say is what fun it must have been while the going was good.

Dish-less, I retire to bed on Wednesday night like a 1960s teenager tuning to Radio Luxembourg, transistor under the pillow, ear-piece in place. But the hiss of sound from Down Under proves too soporific. I awake to hear an Australian going on about saving the black rhino, then later, to hear Warne and May leave the pitch in sly triumph. I once tuned into a Test in India with Gower on 39, fell asleep, then woke hours later to hear that Gower was on 33, a follow-on having taken place. What is life tryingto tell me?

THERE were calls last week for the Chairman of the Tote, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, to step down from office after a long reign. In his persona as "The Voice Of Reason", Lord Wyatt has been a staunch supporter of the beleagured Home Secretary, Michael Howard. Can I suggest therefore that Howard becomes his successor. That way, if nothing else, Tote punters would then stand a chance of getting away with their losing credit bets.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin