THOSE innocent or squeamish enough to believe that racing should keep its dirty washing private might prudently bury their heads under the duvet for the next month. The charging yesterday of two young Flat jockeys and a bookmaker with colluding to corrupt races is just the tip of a potentially damaging iceberg.
Yesterday?s disciplinary proceedings, issued by the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA), concern ten races on the all-weather circuit in a seven-week period between December 2004 and February 2005. Brian Reilly, 25, and Dean Williams, 24, are charged along with Owen Churchill, the owner of a betting shop in Lowestoft.
Producing the evidence to sustain any such charge, whether through racing?s disciplinary system or even the criminal courts, is notoriously problematic and the sport has frequently looked impotent on integrity issues. Since the advent of Paul Scotney and a police-based security team, however, those who engage in chicanery can no longer feel inviolate.
It remains to be seen if the catalogue of allegations against Reilly and Williams, which involve the passing of information that allegedly facilitated Churchill to lay their rides on the betting exchanges, will be proven ? and, if so, whether the accused will face comparable punishment to Gary Carter, whose career was effectively ended by a five-year ban.
What is certain, however, is that there are more cases to come, some of them concerning much better-known riders than Reilly and Williams. Before the end of June, the security department expects to process the charging of four further jockeys, at least one a regular top-ten performer.
Then, of course, there is the protracted City of London Police investigation, from which the daily indication is that an end is in sight. Kieren Fallon, who has always denied any wrongdoing, is easily the most high-profile of those who remain on bail and he may face further questioning by the police, who are intent on completing their inquiries before the latest bail date on July 3.
There will be inevitable hand-wringing at racing creating headlines for the ?wrong reasons? and some will even resent such an ugly intrusion so close to Royal Ascot. The reality, however, is that racing has been a safe haven for would-be corrupters for far too long. Any attempt to expose such guilty elements must be applauded.
There are many who believe that the combination of low-grade all-weather racing and low-profile jockeys is a constant danger to racing?s integrity. The betting exchanges, too, provide a facility for potential corrupters to lay horses ? though it must be said the exchanges also offer an audit trail never provided by conventional bookmakers.
The names of those charged will trigger no head-jerk of recognition outside the confines of committed racing followers. Reilly has ridden out his claim and is now a Newmarket-based freelance, while the lightweight Williams, who is still apprenticed to Greg Chung, has only two winners this season.
They are to face a directions hearing at the Shaftesbury Avenue headquarters of HRA on June 29, at which the aim will be to set a date for the ?substantive enquiry? before the full disciplinary panel.
Charges against the two jockeys are headed by an alleged breach of Rule 243 ? ?communicating, directly or indirectly, for material reward, gift, favour or benefit in kind, informations about the horses that was not publicly available?. They are also charged under Rule 220 as ?aiding or abetting the commission of a corrupt or fraudulent practice?.
John Blake, the chief executive of the Jockeys? Association, said yesterday: ?I have spoken to both jockeys, and they are surprised and disappointed that charges have been brought after the investigation had dragged on for well over a year. They are keen to move to a hearing and will continue to co-operate with the HRA as they have been doing throughout the investigation.?