Chris McGrath: Corruption charges cast unwelcome shadow over glorious spring of the Turf

Inside Track

Sunday 23 October 2011 09:03

Racing has a habit of hauling its wagons into a circle, whenever the disapproval of the world beyond might reflect or encourage broader misapprehensions.

But you cannot overstate the anger that would unite a traduced community, should any of the corruption charges disclosed by the British Horseracing Authority yesterday be proven through the painful purgation to come.

Yes, the five jockeys involved – Paul Doe, Greg Fairley, Paul Fitzsimons, Kirsty Milczarek and Jimmy Quinn – have largely had to wait for this overnight notoriety to relieve them from relative anonymity. Quinn is well known as a seasoned lightweight, of course, and Fairley as a former champion apprentice. Since the races under review, between January and August 2009, Fitzsimons has taken up training. Quite rightly, all will be permitted to continue their trades until the hearings begin on 20 October. No presumption is made about their guilt or otherwise, and various, outraged protestations of innocence were being volunteered yesterday.

The 10 races under investigation have likewise been exalted into mass attention from the Turf's most obscure theatres. But the gravity of the allegations, which have simmered in racecourse gossip all spring, casts a hateful shadow across a weekend that should otherwise have enriched what already looks a vintage Flat season.

"The Budapest Bullet", Overdose, makes his British debut at Haydock today. Goldikova, the only horse to have won three Breeders' Cup races, begins her journey back to Louisville in Paris tomorrow. In between, Animal Kingdom will be trying to sustain the dream of a first US Triple Crown since 1978 when he tries to follow up his Kentucky Derby success in the Preakness Stakes. In Ireland, meanwhile, it's Guineas weekend, gilded by a second viewing of the imported Australian superstar, So You Think. With so much to celebrate, however, racing suddenly finds itself revisiting the toxic possibilities latent in betting on any sport.

It must be said that prima facie study of some of the relevant videos could prompt some pretty obvious questions – a missed break here, trouble in running there. Equally, they all featured mediocre horses, perfectly capable of getting themselves beaten without any help from anybody else. In establishing the probity of the tactics used, the BHA would have to demonstrate a clear connection with its other suspicions, concerning activity on betting exchanges.

In broad terms, the advent of exchanges has proved a double-edged sword for the BHA. In principle, they made it easier to profit from the knowledge that a horse will not be ridden with due earnest; but they have also made it easier to track the proceeds of corruption. That should discourage all but the most sophisticated, or idiotic, of miscreants. But the changed betting landscape has set some pretty steep learning curves in other directions, too – not least, during the course of the infamous Old Bailey trial of 2007, for the police. Sometimes the regulators have themselves taken a pretty contentious path, especially over inside information. It remains to be seen whether they have produced any smoking guns on this occasion.

The five jockeys are joined on the carpet by two registered owners, Maurice Sines and James Crickmore. Along with six other men, they are accused of "conspiring to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice". Various other charges have been made to different individuals – most significantly the provision of inside information in exchange for "material reward, gift, favour or benefit in kind". In eight of the 10 races, above all, the jockeys are charged with failing to ensure that their respective mounts were run on their merits.

The range of pertinent penalties menaces the career of any rider found guilty. For deliberately failing to obtain the best possible placing, whether for personal reward or in the knowledge that a horse has been laid to lose, bans extend from five to 25 years. The guideline "entry point" is eight years.

Inevitably, the case will be presented as yet another of the Turf's tawdry melodramas. But Chris Brand, acting chief executive of the BHA, stressed that investigations such as this should instead be treated as evidence of a scrupulous approach to integrity. "British racing is rightly recognised worldwide for its expertise in this area, and the high standards we set for both ourselves and those participating," he said. "Racegoers and punters should be reassured that the overwhelming majority of races are free of suspicion. We are committed to deterring and detecting wrongdoing, and taking action when we believe there is evidence of it."

Under The Microscope

The races under investigation (2009)

*Lingfield Jan 17: Jimmy Quinn – It's A Mans World (11-8 fav) – 2nd of 9

*Lingfield Feb 13: Paul Fitzsimons – It's A Mans World (11-2) – 5th of 6

*Lingfield Mar 1: Paul Doe – Edith's Boy (9-2) – 4th of 7

*Wolverhampton Mar 5: Greg Fairley – The Staffy (15-2) – 6th of 8

*Wolverhampton Mar 20: Greg Fairley – King Of Legend (4-1 fav) – 8th of 12

*Bath July 23: Paul Doe – Terminate (5-1) – 5th of 12

*Catterick Aug 14: Greg Fairley – Obe Gold (4-1) – 3rd of 5

*Lingfield Aug 15: Kirsty Milczarek – Obe Gold (evens fav) – 5th of 12

*Two other races also being investigated in connection with jockeys allegedly passing information for reward.

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