BRITISH horseracing is once again facing accusations of corruption after police arrested the champion jockey Kieren Fallon and more than a dozen other suspects as part of a high-profile investigation into allegations of race fixing.
Fallon, 39, one of Britain’s most successful riders over the past five years, and two other jockeys, Darren Williams and Fergal Lynch, together with the horse trainer Karl Burke, were among 16 people arrested by the City of London Police in early morning raids.
Police said that the allegations involve more than 80 races over the past two years and could result in massive repercussions, not only for the horseracing hierarchy but bookmakers and millions of punters who placed bets on the meetings in question.
The probe hinges on records of irregular betting provided to police by the Betfair website.
Betfair’s sophisticated tracking system only began two years ago and sources said the alleged scam could have been going on for years before that and involved bets placed at racecourses.
According to the racing pundit John McCririck, the arrest of Fallon is the worst possible scenario for the sport.
He said: "The seriousness now of it is that we have six-times champion jockey Kieren Fallon involved. It’s as though we had Michael Schumacher accused of fixing Formula One or David Beckham missing penalties deliberately. It is an absolute nightmare for the reputation of the sport."
Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Wilmott, of City of London Police, said: "We have amassed a large amount of information, including computer records and documentation seized, and will now commence the detailed task of examining it all."
The force’s assistant commissioner, Mike Bowron, said: "This case is of great national significance, not just to the racing community, but to the wider public throughout the UK."
John Maxse, director of public relations at the Jockey Club, said: "This is an investigation which was initially handled by the Jockey Club, then it was passed on to the City of London police earlier this year."
The arrests - at addresses in Suffolk, North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire - come after the Jockey Club was forced in May to play down claims made by Ladbrokes’ chief executive, Chris Bell, that at least one race a day in Britain was fixed.
A Jockey Club inquiry against Fallon and John Egan, into a charge of bringing the sport into disrepute, is due to start this month.
The proceedings date back to allegations brought by undercover News of the World reporters in March. The newspaper alleged that Fallon told undercover journalists before a race at Lingfield that the eventual winner, Rye, would beat his mount, Ballinger Ridge.
Fallon was found guilty of not riding out for first place on Ballinger Ridge, which was beaten by a short head by Rye, and he served a 21-day suspension for the offence.
Fallon and Egan were told the following month by the Jockey Club that they would have to attend a hearing to try to establish whether they had acted in a manner prejudicial to the integrity and good reputation of horseracing in their dealings with undercover reporters.
A charge of accepting money or benefit in kind for tips was dropped, but the pair are still due to face a charge of bringing racing into disrepute.
Both jockeys strenuously deny all the allegations.
Fallon and 11 others of those arrested had been bailed from Bury St Edmunds police station by yesterday evening.
Mr Fallon’s solicitor, Christopher Stewart-Moore, said: "Kieren Fallon has not been charged with any offence.
"Following an interview with the police in Bury St Edmunds, he has been released without charge. The circumstances that relate to his arrest involve an individual who Kieren Fallon has met on one occasion and whose name he did not even know at the time the meeting happened.
"This was during the course of a ten-minute car journey from Leicester races to the airport at Leicester, where he then flew on to an evening meeting at Windsor.
"During this car journey, Kieren Fallon did not speak to the individual concerned. In the circumstances, we do not anticipate that this matter will be taken any further by the police."
Despite his successes - three Derby wins and winning a host of other honours - Fallon’s career has been dogged by controversy. In 1994, he was banned for seven days for hitting a fellow jockey, Chris Rutter, with his whip and later that year was banned for six months for violent or improper conduct after a clash with another jockey. Last year he admitted to having a problem with alcohol and undergoing a 30-day programme of treatment.
But Fallon has an excellent record as a flat-racing jockey. The only time he missed out on the title of champion jockey in the past six years was in 2000 when he suffered a serious shoulder injury in a fall at Royal Ascot, which threatened to end his career.
Elaine Burke, wife of the horse trainer Karl Burke, speaking from her husband’s stables at Spigot Lodge in North Yorkshire, said: "I don’t know what it’s all about. The whole thing is absolute nonsense. It’s all been exaggerated and spun. We’ve heard this all before. We were supposed to be celebrating our 20th anniversary today but instead I’m being asked questions about my husband."
Corruption allegations latest in a line
YESTERDAY’S arrests over allegations of race fixing are the latest in a string of controversies to beset the sport.
1978: John Francome fined 750 and suspended for six weeks for breaching rules banning jockeys from passing information.
1984: Jockey Billy Newnes banned for three years for accepting 1,000 from professional gambler Harry Bardsley in return for information.
April 2003: Jockey Club bans jockey turned bloodstock agent Graham Bradley from all race courses for five years for passing on information to gambler Brian Wright. Bradley has appealed the ban.
December 2003: Jockey Club warns off Wright indefinitely after finding him guilty of six charges, including placing bets using "privileged inside information".
March 2004: Jockeys Kieron Fallon and John Egan to be charged with bringing the sport into disrepute following a News of the World investigation which led to Fallon being suspended for 21 days after being found guilty of not riding out for first place.
May 2004: Ladbrokes chief Chris Bell alleges one race a day in Britain is fixed.