1. The Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) met to consider the case of Paul John and Jim Best for six days during the period 25 February to 11 March 2016. The Panel was comprised of Matthew Lohn (Chair), Ian Stark and Roger Bellamy.
2. John was represented by Rory Mac Neice and Best was represented by Jonathan Laidlaw QC. The BHA was represented by Graeme McPherson QC.
MISSILE MAN (IRE)
3. The issues before the Panel arose following Paul John’s ride on MISSILE MAN (IRE) in the Totepool Betting On All UK Racing Maiden Hurdle at Towcester on 17 December 2015. The gelding was trained by Jim Best. Following an Enquiry after the race the Stewards concluded that John had acted in breach of Rule (B)59.2 in that he had intentionally failed to ensure that MISSILE MAN (IRE) was run on its merits. The Stewards on the day considered that John had ridden the gelding tenderly throughout to finish thirteenth, beaten 29 lengths. Best told the Stewards he was dissatisfied with the ride and thought his jockey should have made the running ‘as the gelding wants further’. As required the BHA’s Guide to Penalties and Procedures the Stewards referred the running and riding of the gelding to the BHA Head Office for consideration by the BHA’s Disciplinary Panel.
4. Best and John received letters from the BHA dated 15 January 2016 inviting them to an enquiry before the Disciplinary Panel on 4 February 2016 to consider the case.
Paul John’s Admissions.
5. Subsequent to these letters being sent, the BHA was contacted by John’s legal representative who advised the BHA that John intended to plead guilty to having intentionally failed to ensure that MISSILE MAN (IRE) was run on its merits. John’s representative explained that John had intentionally ridden the gelding other than on its merits and he had been instructed by Best to do so. Moreover he acknowledged on behalf of John that what Best and John had told the Stewards at Towcester was untrue.
6. John’s representative also advised the BHA that John wished the BHA to know the truth about the run of another of Best’s horses that he had ridden three days prior to the race at Towcester.
7. On 14 December 2015 John rode ECHO BRAVA for Best at Plumpton in the JH Builders Novices’ Hurdle. On that occasion the gelding finished fifth beaten 23 lengths. The Stewards held an Enquiry following the race. Best said he was dissatisfied with the ride given to the gelding in the home straight. The Stewards found John in breach of Rule (B)59.4 in that the was guilty of failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures to obtain the best possible placing. They suspended John for 14 days.
8. Alongside the disclosures about the ride on MISSILE MAN (IRE) at Towcester, John’s legal representative confirmed that John had intentionally failed to ensure that ECHO BRAVA was run on its merits at Plumpton and that he did so on the instructions of Best. Moreover he informed the BHA that Best had made it clear before the race that if John did not agree to ride ECHO BRAVA in the way he had been instructed, he would not be given any more rides by Best. Finally the legal representative confirmed that John had told him that what John and Best told the Plumpton Stewards was untrue.
Revised topics for Inquiry
9. In the light of this information, the BHA wrote to Best and John on 22 January 2016. In respect of John, the BHA added a further charge against him alleging that he had intentionally failed to ensure ECHO BRAVA was run on its merits at Plumpton on 14 December 2015. A further two charges were added as against Best – firstly an alleged breach of Rule (C)45 in respect of ECHO BRAVA and secondly a breach of Rule (A)30 which prohibits a person from acting in any manner which the BHA considers to be prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing in Great Britain. The BHA set out its position in the letter that if John were found to have intentionally failed to ride either horse on its merits as a result of Best being in breach of (C)45, then his failure to give proper instructions (to cause the horses to be run on their merits) should be viewed as a breach of Rule (A)30.
The Schedule (A)6 responses
10. On 11 February 2015 Best and John submitted their Schedule (A)6 forms setting out their respective defences. The Panel concluded from reviewing the responses that until this point Best was unaware that John’s position would adverse to him.
11. In his (A)6 document Best’s position was set out as follows: “By way of summary, in respect of both of the alleged breaches of Rule (C)45, Best’s position remains as it was before the Stewards at Towcester and also at Plumpton. He believes the jockey rode both horses poorly, although Missile Man was also carrying an injury. Best was not happy with either ride and there is little indication of the jockey riding to the instructions (instructions intended to ensure that the horses were to be run to their merits) he undoubtedly received on both occasions. Whether this was due to John’s inexperience, incompetence or for other reasons Best, with any degree of certainty, cannot say”
12. John’s position before the local Stewards was that he had received appropriate instructions from Best to ride each gelding on its merits and he had done so to the best of his ability. In contrast, John’s Schedule (A)6 document made the admissions as foreshadowed in the earlier communications between his legal adviser and the BHA. John admitted being in breach of Rule (B)59.2 in respect of the two races at Plumpton and Towcester and that he had lied to the Stewards at the subsequent Enquiries.
The Disciplinary Panel Enquiry
13. In the light of the admissions made by John in advance of the Disciplinary Panel hearing, he was called to give evidence by the BHA. He was cross examined by Best’s legal team from whom he faced a ‘full frontal attack’ as to his credibility as an individual.
14. John’s career as a conditional was set out before the Panel. By any standards he had moved between a number of trainers and by the time he took up employment at Best’s yard he was under close scrutiny from the BHA’s licensing department. John had not worked at any of the yards which had employed him for the 12 months required of a conditional jockey to receive a licence. John had worked first for Henry Daly before joining Victor Dartnall and then Mark Gillard. By the time he went to work for his third trainer Mr Gillard in February 2015 he was told that he was expected to stay there until February 2016. In fact John remained for just over six months at Mr Gillard’s yard before moving to Best in August 2015. The licensing department of the BHA took until October 2015 to issue John with a licence to ride and indicated that they would only consider the granting of a further conditional licence if there were exceptional circumstances.
15. As matters transpired John left Best’s yard under the cover of darkness some seven weeks later on 21 December 2015. Absent exceptional circumstances (as made clear by the BHA) to justify him leaving Best there was little prospect of John being given a further licence by the BHA. On any analysis his career as a jockey was in a precarious state at that point.
16. What was evident to the Panel having seen John give evidence and also having heard from Mr Dartnall, was that John was a headstrong individual who did not naturally accept hierarchy or authority. He was characterised by Best as being ‘a young man perfectly capable of simply wilfully ignoring orders and being difficult and disobedient for the sheer sake of it’. The Panel accepted this assessment but what was also evident to the Panel having seen videos of races other than those which formed the subject matter of the inquiry, was that John was a capable jockey who could win properly contested races.
17. In the Panel’s view the very characteristics which made John a challenging individual to have in a yard were also those that founded his unerring determination to tell the BHA the truth so he could in his words ‘look himself in the mirror.. so I can have some self-respect back’ and ‘Because I did the wrong thing in Plumpton and Towcester, I want to do the right thing in London’.
18. Jockeys rarely give evidence against the trainer who provides them with employment; even more so when the jockey is a conditional who requires the patronage of his trainer to start a career in horseracing. There is no exemption from punishment for a jockey who admits intentionally stopping a horse. A trainer may distance themselves in a Steward’s Enquiry from a jockey who has given a horse a poor ride and can avoid censure by convincing the Stewards that the jockey was given adequate instructions. There is no corresponding benefit in the Rules for a jockey who has ridden to his trainer’s improper instructions and later admits this.
19. John knew he faced punishment by admitting the breaches of the Rules. By dint of his admissions he would be punished not only for the ride at Towcester but also at Plumpton for which he would not have received additional censure but for his own admission. Having heard all the evidence the Panel formed the firm conclusion that John, despite the punishment he knew he would receive, was seeking to ‘wipe the slate clean’ by owning up to his wrongdoing.
20. Evidence was called by Best from a number of witnesses who sought to portray John as an extremely unattractive character. Evidence was given to the Panel by a number of witnesses that John regularly consumed excess alcohol, was lazy, argumentative, rude as well as an unfit and incompetent rider. The evidence called sought to demonstrate that John was a dishonest and manipulative individual and in consequence his evidence was incapable of being relied upon. It was characterised by the BHA as an attempted ‘character assassination’.
21. Best’s position was that John left the yard on 21 December because he wanted to be at home over Christmas to go partying and having done so realised that he would need to find some story to receive favourable treatment from the BHA were he to re-apply for a further conditional licence. The lies and false admissions (as Best asserted) were part of a deceitful plan to by John which would allow him to demonstrate that there were exceptional circumstances which caused him to leave the yard.
22. Having considered all this evidence alongside that given by John the Panel formed its own view of him. It did not find him dishonest and disreputable. He is, as noted above, a strong minded individual who does not naturally take to authority. But his challenging and sometimes disruptive behaviour did not undermine in the Panel’s view his integrity as a witness when it came to the key issues in this case; namely that Best had asked him to ensure neither ECHO BRAVA nor MISSILE MAN (IRE) were run on their merits. The Panel believed John’s account that he felt extremely compromised by being asked to repeatedly ride horses other than on their merits and was concerned he would be asked to ride this way in the future and it was for that reason that he left Best’s yard unannounced late at night on 21 December 2015. Best underestimated John’s strength of character and his determination to distance himself from Best’s corrupting influence.
Recordings of the Races
23. If the Panel were to have had any lingering doubts about whether to accept John’s account, which it did not, then in any event the videos of the races were of themselves clear and unambiguous evidence of the truth of John’s version of events.
24. Best’s analysis of the races and the part John played in them hardened considerably as between the submission of his A(6) form on 11 February 2016 and the hearing by which time he knew John was no longer supporting the version of events given to the racecourse Stewards. Best in his evidence to the Panel contended that John was an unfit incompetent jockey who was unable to carry out basic instructions and could not ride a finish.
25. In the Panel’s view, the video evidence from Plumpton and Towcester showed a jockey who gave ECHO BRAVA and MISSILE MAN (IRE) classic ‘stopping rides’. At Plumpton the gelding was heavily restrained throughout the race. At the start of the second circuit John is seen giving the gelding a cursory flick which he told the Panel he did since he knew there was a camera at that point and wished to be seen to be making an effort. Thereafter, he allowed the field to get away from him and sat motionless without any encouragement to the gelding. At the finish John kept the gelding covered up to the extent that he followed Sam Twiston-Davies over the last and took the same veering course to ensure there was no clear space for ECHO BRAVA to race into.
26. Of particular note in both races was the disconnect between John restraining the geldings with one hand whilst appearing to use his stick with the other. John said he gave the geldings ‘air shots’ in that he sought to appear to hit them with his whip. It was not clear from the videos whether the whip did make contact but in any event the whipping action was clearly ineffective and at best for show. And in both races there was a total absence of John riding a finish. The Panel considered that both rides displayed the definitive features of a jockey who was intending to conceal an attempt to prevent a horse from being run on its merits.
27. The Stewards at Plumpton did not have the advantage of John’s truthful account when reaching their view in relation to a finding of (B)59.4. The Panel having had the time to carefully consider the races and consider the matters with the benefit of a six day hearing were fully satisfied that the evidence and the videos demonstrated clear breaches of Rule (B)59.2 in respect of both races.
28. The BHA when presenting its case gave a clear indication that there was no question of personal reward in this case. The Panel was therefore left to consider which sub-division of Rule (B)59.2 as set out the BHA’s Guide to Procedures and Penalties should apply. Those relevant to the case were sub-divisions:
d) Horse which has intentionally been restrained and not let down
e) Horse which has intentionally not been asked for sufficient effort
f) Horse which appears capable of reaching a challenging position but which has intentionally never been asked to do so.
29. The Panel carefully reviewed its findings and concluded that these races were breaches of sub-division (e); on both occasions the geldings had intentionally not been asked for sufficient effort.
Credibility of John
30. There were a number of other evidential matters raised at the hearing which when carefully examined by the Panel further underlined the credibility of John’s evidence in respect of the key issues in question and confirmed Best’s dishonesty in giving his account of the events.
31. Firstly there was the question of Best’s continued use of John. Conditional jockeys are in plentiful supply. Best’s evidence before the Panel was that John was an unfit, lazy, drunkard who could not ride. Best’s assessment before the Panel of John’s performance on ECHO BRAVA was that it was ‘a disaster of a ride’ and ‘an embarrassment’. Best told the Panel he had been ‘disgusted’ with the conduct of his jockey and ‘could hardly bear to look at him or speak to him’. Nevertheless he allowed him to ride three days later on MISSILE MAN (IRE). Similarly, only 72 hours after the ride on MISSILE MAN (IRE), a performance which Best told the Panel had been another ‘disaster of a ride’ where John had failed to ride to basic instructions and had been too unfit to ride a finish in a 2m novice hurdle, he put up John up to ride at Lingfield on INCH WING and KIAMA BAY.
32. The Panel found Best’s position incredulous. If it really had been the case that Best viewed John as an unfit and incompetent rider who failed to follow basic instructions then in the Panel’s view Best would have simply stopped using him. The Panel concluded that Best continued to use John because he had ridden ECHO BRAVA and MISSILE MAN (IRE) to instructions and those were to conceal the true merits of the geldings.
33. The Panel also found noteworthy the difference in Best’s position as between the local Stewards and the Panel. The mild criticism of John before the local Stewards where John failed to reveal the true nature of his instructions was replaced with vehement condemnation of his ability as a jockey once he had revealed the instructions he had in fact been given.
34. Having deemed John to be in breach of Rule (B)59.2 in respect of both of the rides and correspondingly Best in breach of Rule (C)45 having given John instructions which required him to run the horse other than on its true merits and moreover conceal that he was doing so, the Panel then turned its consideration to the further charge against Best – namely the breach of Rule (A)30. The Panel considered whether in giving instructions to John with respect to the running and riding of ECHO BRAVA and MISSILE MAN (IRE), Best had acted in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing in Great Britain.
35. The Panel regarded the fact of the failure to give proper instructions as being partially covered by the breach of Rule (C)45. But in its view there was something more unpleasant and insidious in Best’s conduct that fell to be censured. In the Panel’s view Best sought to corrupt a young conditional jockey who he knew was unlikely to be able to continue his career in racing unless he completed the 12 month period in his yard. Best knew John was eager for rides and he had recognised him as a competent jockey; between 23 November and 21 December he gave John eight rides.
36. But Best abused his position as a licensed trainer employing a young conditional. He instructed his 7lb claimer to stop two horses and gave him guidance on how to do so. He reinforced those instructions with a threat that, unless John did as he was told, he would be out of a job. Best knew John was on his ‘last chance’ with the BHA and losing his employment would probably terminate John’s aspirations of becoming a jockey. Knowing John’s frail position he abused this to his advantage and directed John to ride in two races in a manner that was in clear contravention of the Rules of Racing.
37. For these reasons the Panel found Best to be in breach of Rule (A)30.
38. The Guide provides a penalty range of 28-90 days suspension for the rider for a (B)59.2 sub-division (e) offence with a recommended entry point of a 42 day suspension. For the trainer the entry point penalty is a fine of £7,500 with a range of £5,000 – £30,000.
39. In determining the appropriate penalty for John, the Panel was mindful that he is a conditional jockey who has left his yard and is unlicensed at present. The Panel concluded that any penalty should have the effect of proscribing John for a period of time during which he may not re-apply for a licence.
40. The Panel started its assessment of penalty at the entry point before taking into account what aggravating and mitigating features fell to be considered. It reminded itself of the detail of the rides given to the geldings and the deception that John had sought to perpetrate. At Plumpton all John’s efforts were focussed on seeking to cover up the fact he was riding a stopping race. This was not a case of a jockey giving a horse an introductory or schooling ride. John actively pretended to race; restraining the gelding whilst feigning to use his whip. He sought to give the impression that he was pushing the gelding out whilst all the time he was in fact pulling hard on the reins. The Panel considered this was a bad example of an attempt to conceal the fact that a horse was not being asked for sufficient effort.
41. The race at Towcester was an even more flagrant instance of a jockey seeking to stop a horse. John was pulling on the gelding throughout the race. He allowed the gelding to steadily lose position and never put it in the race. He went wide at the beginning of the race to lose ground and failed to ride any sort of finish.
42. After both races John lied to the racecourse Stewards who enquired into the races.
43. The Panel determined (before considering the question of mitigation) that the first ride merited a suspension of 60 days and the second ride one of 80 days – these were truly appalling rides. Having made this initial assessment the Panel considered what was the correct multiplier for the race at Towcester in light of the fact that the ride was a second breach of (B)59.2 within 12 months; the Guide to Procedures and Penalties providing that a second offence should be more severely punished than the first.
44. For a less serious breach of (B)59.2 sub-division (g) following a breach of a sub-division (d), (e) or (f), the Guidelines direct that the penalty should be at least double that for a first offence. The Guidelines do not provide a set approach for the more serious circumstances of this case. The Panel considered a second breach of Rule (B)59.2 sub-division (e) in such a short period of time after the first offence to be extremely serious. It demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the Rules of Racing and should be punished as such. The Panel determined that the appropriate approach was to triple the penalty for the second offence, at Towcester.
45. In consequence the total suspension was without mitigation 300 days comprising the 60 day suspension at Plumpton and an 80 day suspension at Towcester which the Panel determined to triple being a second (B)59.2 sub-division (e) offence within 12 months.
John – Mitigation & Penalty
46. The Panel then considered the mitigating factors in relation to John. Put shortly he has decided to tell the truth. From the moment John walked out of the Steward’s room at Towcester on 17 December 2015, he was on notice of the hearing. John’s actions from that point are noteworthy of credit. Firstly he promptly distanced himself from Best – the source of corrupting instructions. In walking out of Best’s yard he was walking out on his licence and potentially his career but he took this step and it was the right thing to do. He subsequently spoke to the Professional Jockey’s Association and thereafter with his solicitor. He instructed his solicitor to come forward to admit the truth of the events and in addition admitted a further breach of the Rules at Plumpton which had not previously been identified by the BHA. Having made his initial approach to the BHA through his solicitor, John appears to have remained willing to co-operate throughout and has provided written and oral evidence. He provided oral evidence before the Panel in the face of the inevitable character assassination that followed.
47. The effect of John’s admissions (as noted above) has also meant that he would be liable to a far greater extent than if he had continued with the story he gave to the Stewards. Finally, without John’s evidence the BHA would have not been able to pursue the breadth of case that it ultimately was able to bring against Best.
48. John deserves significant credit for these factors. The Guide to Procedures and Penalties provides that ‘the Panel may reduce a penalty as much as by one half where the person has co-operated fully with the investigation and, where applicable, provided information enabling action to be taken against other wrongdoers.’
49. The Panel having assessed John’s co-operation and the provision of information enabling action to be taken against Best have deemed that John should be entitled to the full reduction of one half. John’s penalty for the rides at Plumpton and Towcester will be a period of 150 days during which time he will be ineligible to apply for a licence. The Panel has also considered when the penalty should commence. In the Panel’s view it would be apposite and fair in all the circumstances for the penalty to commence at the point John removed himself from Best’s yard – in effect he imposed a suspension upon himself at this point.
50. John will therefore be ineligible to apply for a licence for 150 days from 21 December 2015 to 19 May 2016 inclusive.
51. The Guide to Procedures and Penalties provides that a trainer found in breach of Rule (C)45 in respect of a ride which has been found in breach of Rule (B)59.2 sub-division (e) is liable to a fine of £5,000 to £30,000 with the recommended entry point being £7,500. A Breach of Rule (A)30 is liable to a fine of £1,000 to £15,000 or a suspension/disqualification of 1 month to 3 years with an entry point of a £2,000 fine or 3 months. As noted above the Guide does not provide guidance for a breach of Rule (B)59.2 sub-division (e) where there has been a second breach within 12 months.
52. The Panel considered whether a fine would be an appropriate penalty to mark the severity of Best’s behaviour. It was clear from a cursory application of the principles adopted for John that such an approach could result in a penalty significantly in excess of the £75,000 maximum fine allowed under the Rules. In any event the Panel did not consider this was a case where the required censure of Best could be reflected in a fine.
53. The Panel reminded itself of the approach laid out in the Guide to Procedures and Penalties and in particular the direction that ‘In all cases the Panel has the discretion to impose a sanction which is outside the Range. In respect of offences not referred to in the table, appropriate sanctions may be imposed at the discretion of the Panel by applying suggestions of similar sorts of offences of by referral to the recommendations given to the Stewards.’
54. There is no precedent for this kind of case in the Guidelines; the Panel has therefore considered the matter in the light its findings and the need to find an appropriate penalty which proportionately reflects the Panel’s concern of Best’s behaviour for the breaches of both Rule (C)45 and (A)30. The Panel have determined to issue a single penalty which reflects the gravamen of these matters.
55. The sport of horseracing is reliant on the ability to trust licensed trainers to prepare their horses to show their true potential and to send them to the races with the intention that they will demonstrate their true merits.
56. Best’s behaviour associated with the races at Plumpton and Towcester was reprehensible. It is a privilege to hold a licence to train. Best abused that privilege. He was determined that neither ECHO BRAVA nor MISSILE MAN (IRE) would run on their merits and he moreover was determined that this fact would be concealed. To effect his plan he corrupted and exploited a conditional jockey. He intentionally and deliberately used his position as a trainer to manipulate John knowing that he had to rely on his patronage to remain with any chance of progressing his career as a jockey. The Panel concluded that the gravity of Best’s conduct necessitates a period of disqualification to appropriately reflect this wrongdoing.
57. In determining the appropriate period the Panel reminded itself that Best was the architect of the rides given by John in the races at Plumpton and Towcester. He educated John in the ways of stopping a horse and how to conceal the fact he was doing so. John had never stopped a horse before. It was only under the corrupt tutelage of Best in December 2015 he started doing so.
58. And when the impropriety of the rides was questioned by the local stewards Best lied. He had told John he would do so; it was a pre-ordained plan. He distanced himself from John’s conduct who had in fact ridden according to his direct instructions. This was not a ‘moment of madness’ where Best gave instructions at the last minute at the racecourse – this was a carefully premediated course of conduct. Best falls to be censured proportionately in respect of it. The Panel examined the facts to see if there were any mitigating circumstances which it could apply in Best’s favour. It noted Best’s previous good record. But in respect of these events in particular, it found nothing to his credit.
Best – Penalty
59. Taking all of the above facts into account, the Panel concluded that Best has forfeited the right to enjoy the privilege of being a licensed trainer for a significant period of time. The Panel is mindful of the wider effects any period of disqualification will have on the owners who have horses with Best and the staff who rely upon Best for employment but that does not override the Panel’s concern to appropriately censure Best. He is a dishonest individual who corrupted a young man to ensure horses were not run on their merits. For the breaches of (C)45 and A(30) the Panel have determined that Best should be disqualified for 4 years with immediate effect, from 4 April 2016 to 3 April 2020 inclusive. Best’s owners have until 8 April 2016 to remove their horses from his yard. The Panel has also directed that whilst making the necessary arrangements to remove their horses during this period the owners can associate with Best, notwithstanding his disqualified status.
Notes to Editors:
1. The Panel for the hearing was: Matthew Lohn (Chair), Ian Stark and Roger Bellamy.