18 February 2007

The  most disappointing thing about the four jockeys’ reaction to the bans imposed on Friday for corruptly passing information is that they all said how disappointed they were. It is time to own up.

The nine-day hearing for Robert Winston, Luke Fletcher, Fran Ferris and Robbie Fitzpatrick was heard behind closed doors, so I cannot claim to be up to speed with all the details any more than I have yet fully digested the 37-page written judgment from the Horseracing Regulatory Authority. But do I believe the oft-repeated Winston mantra “I have done nothing wrong”? I do not.

This doesn’t mean I have no sympathy for the jockeys themselves. Ever since betting and racing started their Faustian pact way back in the 17th century, riders have been vulnerable to the sort of temptations that have seen Nottinghamshire bookmaker Ian Nicholl being warned off indefinitely.

It is also true, as the Jockeys Association’s chief executive John Blake has said, that the actual business of giving information is something of a woolly area. Champion jockey AP McCoy does a column for our sister paper on a Saturday which, in essence, is giving tips for a fee. But McCoy makes everything totally public and deals with the excellent Marcus Armytage.

What the four jockeys have done is not the most wicked thing in the criminal book. It’s fair to say that people got up to much worse in ‘the old days’. But the culture is different now. Betfair give a paper trail of who has backed what and Rule 243 about giving inside information is very clearly targeted.

Dublin-born Winston has the talent to go right to the top. But he and his colleagues need to take a very hard look in the mirror. Part of racing is in predictable denial. “He can come and ride out any time. I have never had any problem with the lad,” is a common theme. But do they really believe the slogan “I have done nothing wrong”? Pull the other one.

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