Journalists live for good stories. More so, good quotes. So, when British jockey Kieren Fallon said the following, it was like music to a columnist's tone-deaf ears: "We all know you can't fix races. It doesn't happen. It does in a fairy-tale world but not in the real world."
Question for Fallon: What world are you living in? Someone get that man some smelling salts. Shake the pixie dust out of his eyes. Watch him closely because his nose must be growing.
Fallon, two other jockeys, and a trainer were among 16 persons arrested in a sweep in Great Britain the morning of Sept. 1. They are accused of conspiracy to defraud, though no charges have been filed to this point. The allegations apparently stem from wagers made with betting exchanges, the best-known of which is British-based Betfair.
One Web site called betting exchanges the eBay of the betting industry. On eBay, bidders deal one-on-one with sellers. On betting exchanges, each customer basically becomes a bookie. He sets the odds he will take, but not just on a horse to win; these wagers can also be placed on a horse's chance of losing.
Even Fallon can do the simple math of a 10-horse field having one winner and nine losers, barring of course a dead-heat. If favorites win a third of the time, then they lose two-thirds of the time. Does this jockey actually believe it would not be possible to "make" a 3-5 shot lose?
We all would like to think that the world in which we live is as Fallon sees it through his rose-colored glasses. But reality is a concept one must accept.
Have you ever seen a speed horse break bad and lose all chance in a race? Could this have been done on purpose? Not in Fallon's world.
Ever read about someone being suspended for using illegal medications? Think they might have gained an edge? Not in Fallon's world.
Some days, horses just don't feel like running. Some days, they don't like the track surface. Some days they don't like the pace. With all these, and countless other built-in excuses, how hard would it be to lose a race?
Yet in Fallon's world there is no need for stewards, let alone jails or armies.
Two jockeys outside Fallon's world have recently returned to riding after lengthy suspensions for carrying electrical devices. In case Fallon doesn't know, these are commonly referred to as "buzzers" or "machines," and when used on a horse, will often make him run just a little faster. If you don't believe it works, try one on your own body and see if it doesn't get your attention.
Billy Patin was suspended for five years by the Arkansas Racing Commission for carrying an electrical device when he rode Valhol to an upset win in the 1999 Arkansas Derby (gr. II). He denied using the device. He returned to riding this summer at Churchill Downs.
Dean Sarvis was handed a 10-year suspension by the Indiana Racing Commission for possessing an electrical device during a race at Hoosier Park in 1998. That body agreed to allow him to be licensed again as long as he agreed to never again return to ride within the state's borders. Both Kentucky and Ohio decided to grant him a license.
No one has said Patin and Sarvis "fixed" races. But surely Fallon must see that it is possible to fix a race. And, surely the world must see that allowing persons to wager on horses to lose can only encourage cheaters to cheat.
The same day Fallon and 15 others were rounded up, they ran a group III at York racecourse in England called the Sportingoptions.co.uk Betting Exchange Strensall Stakes. It's a shame Kieren Fallon wasn't aboard the winner. He was a bit busy that day. But others were also busy, betting on horses to lose. The big loser will be the global Thoroughbred industry.
But not in a fairy-tale world.