Magazine article The Spectator

Raising Questions

Magazine article The Spectator

Raising Questions

Article excerpt

The turf

What odds would you have got ten years ago against John Major having had an affair with Edwina Currie? The same sort of price, I suspect, as those wagering that Elvis Presley would be found alive, on the moon. Perhaps, though, I should have had an inkling of his form with the ladies from the way in which the then Cabinet minister once seized Mrs Oakley at a Jeffrey Archer party and swung her off her feet in a circle before a startled Sunday newspaper editor and a leading actor. The latest 'revelations' about racing on Panorama come as somewhat less of a surprise to those who have anything to do with the sport. We knew that the disgraced ex-jockey Dermot Browne, warned off years ago, has claimed he doped 27 horses for alleged drug baron Brian Wright and that a number of jockeys, out of naivety, greed or a combination of the two used to accept hospitality from Wright, known as 'Uncle'. We have heard of other top jockeys being seen in the company of known criminals and of bookmakers giving certain trainers `no lose' accounts to ensure a good flow of information.

But the rich will always be with us in racing and they will continue to enjoy drawing sportsmen into their social circle. The rich include those who turn out to have acquired their riches by less conventional means.

Panorama's case, impressively presented but short on names and pack drill, rested too much on the testimony of suspect witnesses like Browne and potential axegrinders like Roger Buffham, the Jockey Club's former director of security, who left after an investigation into allegations of gross misconduct. (Since the ineffective Buffham came from the security services, and Panorama made a complete idiot, too, of his successor as security director Jeremy Phipps, formerly with the SAS, I am left worrying more about the security of the country.)

But Panorama's montage should not be brushed aside simply because it depended on Buffham. It is bad for the image of racing and it did raise questions which need to be answered about the painfully slow procedures of a self-perpetuating oligarchy in keeping racing clean. The Jockey Club needs to sharpen up. Perhaps its licensing and disciplinary functions need to be taken over by a more independent body, less inclined to try to tackle problems with a quiet word in an influential double-barrelled ear. The government needs to help by giving the club access to criminal records to help them keep out the undesirables who will always be attracted to a sport dependent on gambling. It needs, too, to pass legislation to ensure that they and other gambling regulators get access to bookmakers' records to follow the money trails. …

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