30 November 2017
1. On 6 November 2017, the Independent Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) held an enquiry into allegations of breach of the Rules of Racing by the trainer David Evans. He was said to be in breach of Rule (F)100 for a delayed notification of a non-runner for a race that was due to take place at Wolverhampton on 9 January 2015. Furthermore, it was alleged by the BHA that his delay in making that notification occurred in a way that prejudiced the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing, and was therefore in breach of Rule (A)30.1. In essence, the BHA contended that Mr Evans held back an announcement that one of his declared runners in the race, TANGO SKY (IRE), would not run in order to place bets on his other runner at advantageous prices, both for himself and for other owners associated with his yard.
2. The BHA’s case was presented by Tim Naylor, who is the BHA’s Head of Regulation, and Mr Evans was represented by his solicitor Rory Mac Neice. Before and at the hearing, Mr Evans admitted both allegations, but in the case of the breach of Rule (A)30.1, this admission was made on the basis that he recognised that it was improper to try to gain a financial benefit by withholding information about the intended withdrawal of TANGO SKY (IRE). But it was also contended that he did not in fact mislead the bookmakers with whom he placed his bet – Ladbrokes – because he did reveal to them his intention to withdraw TANGO SKY (IRE) during the telephone call in which he placed his bet.
3. The bare facts of the case were not in dispute. Mr Evans trained both TANGO SKY (IRE) and BLACK DAVE (IRE) for different owners. He entered both before noon on 3 January for the 4.15 p.m. race at Wolverhampton on 9 January 2015. On 5 January, TANGO SKY (IRE) ran in and won a race at Wolverhampton. Following this, TANGO SKY (IRE) showed occasional signs of lameness. On the evening of 8 January, TANGO SKY (IRE) was inspected by Mr Evans’s regular veterinary surgeon, Jeremy Swan. He told Mr Evans that TANGO SKY (IRE) was not in a fit condition to run the next day because of lameness, and in due course he produced a Veterinary Non-Runner Certificate to that effect. However, no steps were taken to notify the Racing Calendar office that the horse would be a non-runner either during the evening of 8 January or early the next morning when stable staff working for Mr Evans inspected the horse again and told him that its condition had not improved.
4. Instead, at 0843 hrs on 9 January 2015, Mr Evans rang his regular bookmakers, Ladbrokes, and sought to place what he described as a “good bet” on BLACK DAVE (IRE). The transcript of this phone call, which lasted just over 2 minutes, appears at Annex A to these Reasons. This shows that when Mr Evans asked to place £6,000 on BLACK DAVE (IRE) to win, the Ladbrokes trader, Jeremy Thomas, referred this to his senior, Mr Tony Milburn, to ask if Ladbrokes wished to take the bet. It was taken, and furthermore the price given to Mr Evans was 4/1, half a point better than the then public quote of 7/2. After the bet was formally struck, Mr Evans told Mr Thomas that he was soon going to pull TANGO SKY (IRE) out of the race. Mr Evans evidently felt that this news might affect Ladbrokes’ attitude to the bet just taken, but as the transcript shows, there was no attempt by the bookmaker to go back on the bet they had laid.
5. During the ensuing minutes, Mr Evans made a number of calls to the owners of BLACK DAVE (IRE), of TANGO SKY (IRE) and of other horses in his yard. Following these calls, in the space of about 15 minutes either side of 0900 hrs, three of the recipients placed various bets with an assortment of bookmakers. These were all back bets on BLACK DAVE (IRE).
6. Meanwhile, Ladbrokes were not slow to react after the conversation in which Mr Evans placed his bet on BLACK DAVE (IRE) with them. Firstly, they shortened the price of BLACK DAVE (IRE) to 100/30 (compared with the published price of 7/2 at the time that they took the bet). Secondly, at 0849 hrs, just 3 minutes after the conclusion of the telephone conversation with Mr Evans, they shortened the price of TANGO SKY (IRE) to 3/1 from 7/2. The Panel heard evidence from Keith Page, who is a Regulatory Development Manager at Ladbrokes Coral Group plc, about this and other topics generally. He was an impressive witness who did not beat about the bush. He said of this price change for TANGO SKY (IRE) that it is likely to have been Mr Milburn who did this after his trader Mr Thomas reported what Mr Evans had said about the impending withdrawal of TANGO SKY (IRE). And as Mr Page said, this was either a very cynical price change or the traders were aware that something was not right. Its significance, for Ladbrokes, was that it increased the Rule 4 deduction in the event of TANGO SKY (IRE)’s withdrawal from 20p to 25p in the £. Thirdly, Ladbrokes informed both the BHA and the Gambling Commission of what they felt was a suspicious bet.
7. Mr Evans did not notify the Racing Calendar office of the withdrawal of TANGO SKY (IRE) until 0939 hrs, nearly an hour after he had placed his own bet and well after bets were placed by the owners whom he telephoned right after his own call to Ladbrokes. That led to a reforming of the betting markets a few minutes later.
8. As a result of the report made to the BHA by Ladbrokes, a Stewards Enquiry was held at Wolverhampton to investigate the circumstances of TANGO SKY (IRE)’s withdrawal. Mr Evans answered the questions put to him straightforwardly. He was similarly straightforward when further interviewed in greater depth by BHA investigators in June 2015. These investigations showed that he was, very surprisingly, unaware of the obligation to notify non-runners promptly. And he was open about why he held back the notification in TANGO SKY (IRE)’s case. This was to help himself, and owners connected with his yard, to “nick a bit of extra value” when placing their bets on BLACK DAVE (IRE). In fact, both he and the others who backed BLACK DAVE (IRE) before the public disclosure of TANGO SKY (IRE)’s withdrawal got little or no advantage from their betting before that public disclosure. That is because of the operation of the Rule 4 deductions. It was suggested through the evidence of Mr Page that if Mr Evans had promptly notified a withdrawal of TANGO SKY (IRE), either on the evening of 8 January 2015 or at least before the bookmakers published prices shortly after 0800 hrs the next morning, the market would have priced BLACK DAVE (IRE) shorter than the effect of making a Rule 4 deduction from his opening price. That is possible, but merely demonstrates that different market makers create different markets.
9. It cannot be said that the “generous” price given by Ladbrokes to Mr Evans (i.e. 4/1 as opposed to the publicly available 7/2 at 0843 hrs) was the result of his keeping back disclosure of the withdrawal of TANGO SKY (IRE). For one thing, as Mr MacNeice emphasised, Ladbrokes were quite content to let the bet stand without challenge when he told them of the impending withdrawal. It was apparent, as Mr Page from Ladbrokes explained, that the extra half point was offered to Mr Evans because he was (in Mr Page’s delicate phrase) a “high-value customer”. That indicated to the Panel that he was either a losing punter overall or a useful source of information, and quite possibly both. The second aspect of that – the possibility that Mr Evans was a source of information to Ladbrokes – was a matter of potential concern. There can in principle be nothing wrong with bookmakers drawing their own conclusions from the bare facts of bets sought or placed by trainers or other stable staff. But if something more is being supplied, for instance inside information, more serious problems arise. Into which category did Mr Evans fall? There was little if any evidence that bore upon this, beyond his answer to a question from the Panel which indicated that Ladbrokes only allowed him enhanced prices on horses he trained. That could be an indication that he was in the habit of supplying inside information. But an expanded investigation into this might well have involved the adjournment of an already stale case. There is no doubt that he did in fact supply information to Ladbrokes in the case of his bet on BLACK DAVE (IRE) – right after he placed it, he told them of the impending withdrawal of TANGO SKY (IRE). But crucially the bet had already been placed when he told them of this. So the enhanced price was not a payoff for information. It had already been given. The Panel did not therefore proceed upon the basis that he was potentially profiting from an improper supply of information to Ladbrokes.
10. The most troubling aspect, therefore, of Mr Evans conduct in holding back an announcement of the withdrawal of TANGO SKY (IRE) is the effect that his private disclosure of this to Ladbrokes had on the betting market. He gave Ladbrokes the opportunity, which they took, to reduce the exposure of their book by tightening TANGO SKY (IRE)’s price and consequently increasing the Rule 4 deduction. The only actual losers from this, however, will be those punters who backed the eventual winner between the time of Mr Evans’s phone call to Ladbrokes and the re-formation of the market. The winner of the race, BOGSNOG (IRE), had opened at 20/1, was then moved out to 25/1 at 0916 hrs, and then repriced at 20/1 when the market reformed at 0946. So there will have been few if any losers on the particular facts here. There were of course potential losers, in the sense that anybody who placed a bet after 0849 hrs, when TANGO SKY (IRE)’s price was shortened, and before 0946 hrs, when the market reformed, was going to suffer a greater Rule 4 deduction than he or she should have done. But there was no specific evidence of the existence of actual losers or the scale of potential losers.
11. The Panel therefore approached its assessment of Mr Evans’s breach of the Rules of Racing on the basis that his conduct did contribute to the existence of a false market for the period of about an hour after 0849 hrs. The sport has a fundamental interest in honest and accurate betting markets. But in this case, neither Mr Evans nor the individuals whom he tipped off and who followed him in backing BLACK DAVE (IRE) got anything more than a negligible betting advantage. There is no evidence of the extent of the loss suffered by anyone who backed the eventual winner in that period of an hour or of the potential loss suffered by backers of other horses in that same period.
12. For the breach of Rule (F)100, the Guide to Procedures and Penalties specifies a standard level of fine of just £140. While this is generally appropriate in cases of negligent late reporting of non-runners, it plainly does not reflect the gravity of what Mr Evans did, and the Panel sought to deal with this when considering his other admitted breach. Nevertheless, he must also pay that standard level fine of £140.
13. It was the BHA’s submission that an entry level penalty was appropriate for the main breach in this case, the breach of Rule (A)30.1. The Guide to Procedures and Penalties indicates entry-level penalties that are either financial or which involve loss of a licence. It was not suggested that loss of licence was appropriate in this case, and in the light of the findings explained above, the Panel did not feel that was appropriate. The entry-level financial penalty is a fine of £2,000. The Panel increased this to reflect the seriousness of Mr Evans’s conduct and at least the intended benefit he hoped to extract from his bet and from tipping off other owners in his yard (even if he and they were largely wrong about this). In principle a fine of £4,000 was justified. But this was reduced to £3,000 to reflect the fact that Mr Evans was from the outset entirely open and straightforward in answering questions about what he had done and to reflect also the fact that there has been substantial delay in bringing this matter to a hearing.
14. By way of postscript, it should be said that other trainers and stable staff should not assume that a financial penalty will always be appropriate in the case of relationships with bookmakers that go beyond simply seeking and making bets. If they are supplying information that they should not be (and having access to enhanced prices may be an indication of this), then they risk the loss of their licences.