Speech to Go Racing In Yorkshire By Senior Steward, Christopher Spence
Published: 5 December 2002
It is a great honour for me to be invited to join you all here today for your annual lunch. There is no greater fan of racing in Yorkshire than me, where your racegoers are the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable in the country, and where your racecourses each with their own character, provide excellent facilities for those racegoers and to the connections of runners.
I have of course to admit to some bias having enjoyed my fair share of luck on Yorkshire courses particularly at York where the first horse I ever owned, Frontier Goddess, won the Yorkshire Oaks in 1969. My hero Celeric, much loved and appreciated by the York crowd, won six races at York none of which will I ever forget. Sesame won the Garrowby Stakes and another horse I bred Malleus won there as well.
My luck did not stop at York. The first horse I ever bred, Turmeric, won no less than eight races at Catterick. Since I started my small breeding operation 20 years ago we have won 25 races on your member courses, the exceptions I am sad to report being Redcar and Wetherby, although a horse I bred and sold won a hurdle race at Wetherby. You will therefore understand my bias and particular love of Yorkshire racing but I am not here to crow about my luck!
When back in February Len Cowburn kindly invited me to come here today, (how could I refuse that long ago!), my letter of acceptance ended up with the words “It will be interesting to see how the land lies in December.” It has certainly been a remarkable ten months for racing even by our standards. As usual for our Industry we have seen a fair share of both good news and bad news. I am sure we all share the frustration of our continuing inability to unite as an industry, to speak with one voice, to tackle the problems together as opposed to through the press, and to take the industry forward reaping the benefits of the good news which has been achieved. As we all share our love and pride of British racing, we make awful fools of ourselves to outsiders, as we continuously fail to achieve the most obvious and simple objectives
As Senior Steward and a director of BHB, I thought I would spend some time today talking about specific current affairs as I see them.
I shall start with The Jockey Club’s role as Regulator today and where it might be in the future and then move on to those issues currently facing BHB.
I of course very sincerely believe that The Jockey Club, on the whole and given the tools in its bag, regulates racing honestly, fairly and very well. British Racing has an enviable reputation both nationally and internationally and this record must above all else be protected.
In recent months the spotlight has been placed on The Jockey Club’s Security and Disciplinary functions, but there is, in fact, a great deal more to The Jockey Club’s regulatory role. Effective regulation of horseracing ensures not only the fair and honest outcome of a race, but also the safety and welfare of horse and rider where for instance our veterinary and medical teams work tirelessly on the prevention of injuries to both racehorses and jockeys.
So what about the area under most scrutiny? What has the Jockey Club done to protect the integrity of racing? What measures have been taken to deter criminal activity within the sport and to ensure races are fairly and honestly run?
First and foremost I think one needs to recognise that wherever there is betting there will be those driven by greed who will seek to gain an unfair advantage, and that as racing has more established links with betting than any other sport it would be naïve to expect racing and betting to be totally crime free. Racing is going to be no more crime free than society in general.
Secondly, having established that racing is vulnerable because of its links with betting, one must also understand that we have has no jurisdiction over betting, whilst bookmakers are regulated by statute, betting is not regulated at all. Additionally, we are restricted by our limited powers. We do not have the authority to gain access to betting records, nor powers of arrest or search and we have difficulty when dealing with individuals not licensed under the Rules of Racing.
Despite these obstacles, the Jockey Club has done a great deal in recent years to deter, detect and deal with threats to racing’s integrity. It was six years ago that we announced, to some derision and scepticism from both the racing industry and media, the introduction of a warning’s protocol for jockeys and trainers as for some time the Stewards had received reports implicating a small number of jockeys and trainers in situations which caused considerable concern for the integrity of racing. The most disturbing aspect of these reports was that the information showed licensed people regularly meeting or receiving favours from known criminals.
Since its introduction, we have issued warnings to a number of licensed individuals in relation to their associations with people we consider ‘undesirable’. The system has been used sparingly but effectively, but because we are dealing with situations where there is insufficient evidence to warrant a formal disciplinary hearing, the warnings – which if ignored jeopardise the individual’s licence – must remain confidential.
It was around the time of the introduction of the Warnings Protocol that the Jockey Club acquired evidence which suggested that an unlicensed individual called Brian Wright was involved in criminal activity within racing. We passed that evidence onto the Metropolitan Police in the spring of 1997 who then took over the investigation. Having arrested Brian Wright, the police investigation of his involvement in racing foundered due to lack of hard evidence and he was released. Meanwhile, Brian Wright’s drug trafficking activities had become the target for the biggest Customs and Excise operation in their history, from which followed an inter-connected series of criminal trials, the result of which was prison sentences totalling well over 200 years were handed out. And so, due to circumstances beyond our control, it would be six years before The Jockey Club would be in a position to act against Wright.
In the meantime, however, the Jockey Club dealt with the threats posed to racing’s integrity by tackling the underlying problems. In a speech at the Gimcrack dinner in 1999, I expressed our concern about the threat to racing and called on Government to address the problems evolving from the under regulation of betting. And, as well as making submissions to Sir Alan Budd’s subsequently announced Gambling Review, we also introduced a range of new measures for licensed individuals which included rules to deter the passing on of privileged information, codes of conduct relating to their relationships with betting organisations and increased powers for our security department. This again was greeted with some derision as being way over the top. The irony being that Panorama, which I shall come to in a minute, accused us of not having the backbone to do anything at all!
When the reporting restrictions imposed during the various drug related trials of the Brian Wright Organisation were finally lifted in June of this year, we not only revealed that disciplinary proceedings had been initiated against a number of individuals, including Brian Wright, we also announced the reconvening of our Integrity Review Committee to review the evidence given during the trials and to make further recommendations for measures to deter malpractice in racing. The Committee includes Sir Michael Connell, a former High Court judge, Benn Gunn, a forme