Winston is one of four riders found guilty, under British racing’s rules, of providing information for reward or corrupt gain.
Fran Ferris has been warned off for two years, meaning that he is barred from entering HRA licensed premises, such as racecourses or racing stables for the duration of his ban, while Luke Fletcher and Robbie Fitzpatrick have both been warned off for three years.
Winston’s ban is less severe and the withdrawal of his license allows him to continue riding home work for trainers and attending race meetings. The HRA accepted mitigating circumstances and that he had not pulled any horses.
Even so, the guilty verdict is a massive blow to 27-year-old Winston, who harbored realistic hopes of becoming champion jockey in Britain.
The talented Irishman has emerged as one of the leading riders over the past three years. His breakthough campaign came in 2004 when he enjoyed a first group I victory in the Cheveley Park Stakes aboard Magical Romance at Newmarket and ended the campaign with 124 wins for his first top 10 finish.
Winston was close to a first British jockeys’ championship in 2005, but a horrific fall at Ayr racetrack that August left him with serious facial injuries and the resultant recuperative period enabled his rivals, headed by subsequent champion Jamie Spencer, the opportunity to overtake the lead he had established.
Multiple champion trainer Sir Michael Stoute has been Winston’s principal patron for the past two years, providing him with 26 of 136 winners that saw him end 2006 as the fourth winning-most rider in Britain for the second successive year.
The HRA verdict was delivered to the jockeys three weeks after the conclusion, on Jan. 23, of a closed eight and a half day hearing that focused on 37 races contested between June 16, 2003 and Feb. 29, 2004. In those races, 21 horses were ridden by Winston, 11 by Fletcher, four by Ferris, and two by Fitzpatrick.
Winston, Ferris, and Fletcher were also alleged to have misled HRA security department investigators and provided them with inaccurate information. Fitzpatrick was additionally charged with hindering or obstructing the investigation.
It was alleged that the four riders were involved with former bookmaker Ian Nicholl, Kim Evans, Paul Glendenning, Joanne Roberts, and Tegan Wilde, all Betfair account holders who made a profit of £48,000 during the period under investigation. Nicholl has been warned off indefinitely.
The HRA disciplinary panel said Fitzpatrick had broken Rule 243 by passing information for reward to Nicholl for one of his two rides and that he was the go-between for all the Ferris and Winston rides. It judged he had broken Rule 241 (i) (b) by hindering an investigation and Rule 220 (viii) by misleading investigators.
However, he was found not in breach of intentionally not riding a horse on its merits in the knowledge the horse had been laid to lose.
The panel reported Winston's case was the most difficult to resolve, but his involvement was "of a less serious character than that of the other jockeys".
It found Winston was supplying inside information to Nicholl via Fitzpatrick, but "this did not include any indication that he would if necessary ride in a way designed to ensure the success of the lay betting".
Fletcher and Ferris were both found in breach of Rules 243 and 220 (vii) and they were guilty of intentionally not riding specific horses on their merits in the knowledge they had been laid to lose. The horses in question for Fletcher were Hoh's Back, Blandys, and Larky's Lob, while the rides in question for Ferris involved Penric and Claptrap.
A statement issued on behalf of Winston was issued afterwards by Christopher Stewart-
Moore of Ralph Davis Solicitors.
It stated: "Robert Winston is shocked and disappointed by the HRA disciplinary panel’s finding that he was in breach of Rule 243 in giving information for reward.
"This disappointment is tempered to some degree by the panel finding that they accepted that it was no part of the information he gave that he would ride to lose if necessary, and their further finding that in no instance did he in fact ride to lose.
"The panel's finding against Mr. Winston is based on their 'inference' that Mr. Winston received a reward from Mr. Nicholl for providing him with information.
"For the avoidance of doubt, Mr. Winston received no reward from Mr. Nicholl - or anyone else for that matter - in relation to the information that he is alleged to have given. No physical evidence of a reward was put to the panel and no such evidence exists.
"Mr. Winston never spoke to Mr. Nicholl and was completely unaware of his existence at the relevant time. There are two further factors that militate against the likelihood of Mr. Winston receiving a reward for the information he allegedly gave to Mr. Nicholl.
"The first is the average starting price of the horses ridden by Mr. Winston and laid by Mr. Nicholl, which is in the region of 23/1. Information given to the effect that a horse at such a price was likely to lose would not on the face of it appear to have much, if any, intrinsic value - particularly as it was the case (as it was here) that the jockey would be doing his best.
"Secondly, Mr. Nicholl actually made a loss laying Robert Winston's rides, as is now revealed from the bookmakers’ accounts.
"One aspect of the judgement in which Mr. Winston is particularly disappointed is the panel's failure to take into account the fact that in relation to some of the horses laid by Mr. Nicholl and ridden by Mr. Winston there was no means of communication to Mr. Nicholl. This fact entirely supported Mr Nicholl's evidence that he often laid horses ridden by Mr. Winston without any communication with Mr. Fitzpatrick.
"The level of penalty imposed in the circumstances is extremely harsh."
The HRA took the unusual step of giving the four riders advance notice of the verdicts the previous day, Feb. 15, in order to allow their legal representatives time to prepare pleas for mitigation.
While Winston and Fitzpatrick have continued to ride, Fletcher voluntarily relinquished his licence in August and the HRA stripped Ferris of his licence in October after deeming him not to be a "fit and proper person" to pursue his profession.
Winston’s last ride was a winning one aboard Hypnosis in a low-grade five-furlong handicap at Southwell racetrack the previous afternoon.
Following the adjournment of the HRA inquiry in January, Winston had protested his innocence, telling the Irish Independent, "I just want to ride horses," before adding, "I am determined to become champion jockey some day, with God’s help."
The sentences are seen as deterrents to other riders being tempted to break racing’s rules..
The HRA is due to hear similar cases later this year, while there is a criminal case brought by the police involving former champion jockey Kieren Fallon who is not allowed to ride in Britain pending the result of that trial.