Probity of British Racing Under Spotlight

By Richard Griffiths
The probity of British racing has come under the spotlight following a series of allegations of corruption within the sport.

On June 11, a national television investigative program, Kenyon Confronts, raised claims that the majority of horse races in Britain were "bent" because trainers were running their horses at the wrong distance, on the wrong surface, or when they were palpably unfit in order to trick handicappers into giving them a lower rating.

The majority of British races are framed as handicaps, a situation described by leading trainer Mark Johnston as "absurd" because it discourages horses from being allowed to run on their merits.

While many within the racing world have tried to laugh off the Kenyon Confronts program as "sensationalist" and ignorant of its subject, it nonetheless provided unwelcome and damaging publicity. The program secretly recorded meetings between reporters posing as potential owners and three trainers, all of whom blithely explained the methods they use to deceive handicappers.

Trainers Jamie Osborne, Ferdy Murphy, and David Wintle now face Jockey Club inquiries.

Further and more disturbing revelations followed days later. It was found that a drug baron named Brian Wright had built up extensive contacts in British racing in the 1980s and 1990s. Wright was a major gambler who used the contacts to give him a wagering edge. The Jockey Club believes he used racing to launder money raised through his cocaine smuggling ring, which has now been severely disrupted by a Customs and Excise investigation that lasted six years.

It is illegal, in the context of racing, for jockeys to pass on privileged information for reward, and one former National Hunt jockey, Graham Bradley, now faces an inquiry into whether he should be banned from the sport. In giving evidence in a trial related to the cocaine smuggling ring, he admitted he had passed on information to Wright, who remains the subject of an international arrest warrant and is currently thought to be living in northern Cyprus, from where he can't be extradited.

Wright is believed to have been behind 23 dopings that took place in Britain in August and September of 1990. Only three of the horses another former jockey, Dermot Browne, claims to have doped on Wright's behalf were detected by the Jockey Club at the time.

They included Argentum, a runner in the group I Nunthorpe Stakes at York. Argentum was regarded as the main rival to Dayjur, a horse who just missed wining the 1990 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I). According to Browne, Argentum was drugged so Wright could heavily back Dayjur safe in the knowledge that his main rival could not win.

The Jockey Club believes Wright was betting on and fixing races on a regular basis between the mid-1980s and late 1990s. More damaging headlines could follow in July, when another television program, Panorama, is expected to look at whether The Jockey Club has been negligent in its role of policing racing.

Senior steward Christopher Spence warned that the sport remains vulnerable to criminal infiltration, and that those it licenses, especially trainers and jockeys, should be on their guard.

The Jockey Club believes its powers of clamping down on corruption in racing are limited by its role as a regulatory body, which is without statutory powers. It is looking to a proposed new Gambling Review Group, which would cover betting issues relating to all sports and casinos, to introduce a series measures aimed at reducing the risk of criminal infiltration.