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Corruption in Endurance horseracing - phantom races, horse welfare and the way forward

Monday, 02 November 2015 By Elizabeth Rhodes, Arun Chauhan

Horseracing, as with many professional sports, is no stranger to a number of different types of scandal including allegations of corruption, including fraud, - most notably - race fixing, and doping to improve (or reduce) the performance of a horse. Recently, however, a lesser-known form of corruption has come to the fore within the discipline of Endurance racing – that of staging of “phantom” events.

This article explores the detrimental effects that phantom races (like so many other forms of corruption) have had on horse welfare. It then explores what is being done by the International Equestrian Federation to tackle and improve horse welfare before stepping back to reflect upon what more the industry could do to fight corruption at source.


What are phantom Endurance races?

Endurance racing is a long-distance horse race where participants race each other against the clock often over distances from 80km up to 400km.1 In March 2015, Telegraph newspaper alleged that ‘bogus’ or ‘phantom’ Endurance races were occurring within the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the sport is particularly popular.2 The story revolved around two 80km races that were recorded as taking place on 23 December 2014 and 21 January 2015, although the Telegraph alleges that they never took place. The races supposedly acted as qualification heats for February’s 160km President’s Cup; motivation for which could have been financial gain although, given that gambling is prohibited in the UAE, is likely to have been to affect rankings and allow competitors access to more prestigious races.

Unusual patterns within the race results recorded on the official website of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI - the international sports federation that governs a number of equestrian disciplines, including Endurance) raised the suspicions of the Telegraph, as the data included identical results to previous genuine races.

Following this exposure, the Telegraph reported that it had discovered a further ten allegedly ‘phantom’ races taking place within the UAE recorded on the FEI database.

The FEI ordered an independent investigation into the scandal, which resulted in it suspending the UAE National Federation.3 Under the terms of the suspension, the UAE National Federation was not permitted to:

  • Attend or be represented at any session or meeting of any body of the FEI;
  • Organise international events; and,
  • Its members were not allowed to participate in any international events (although UAE athletes from disciplines other than Endurance could compete under the FEI flag in international competitions organised outside of the UAE). 

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Written by

Elizabeth Rhodes

Elizabeth Rhodes

Elizabeth is a member of the Fraud and Risk team at DWF LLP and advises clients in respect of a wide range of commercial disputes with a particular focus on complex fraud disputes. She is a member of the Midlands Fraud Forum and Fraud Women’s Network.

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Arun Chauhan

Arun Chauhan

Arun jointly heads up the Fraud and Risk team at DWF LLP, and specialises in commercial litigation arising out of complex corporate fraud disputes. He deals with a broad range of fraud investigations, bribery and corruption investigations and fraudulent misrepresentation claims arising out of investments or acquisitions in cases of value up to £100m.

Arun chairs regional meetings for the Fraud Advisory Panel and is a member of the Midlands Fraud Forum.

Tel: 0845 404 2391

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Comments (3)

  • Ian Smith

    • 11 November 2015 at 16:17
    • #

    Very interesting article, but I find the assertion that the fraud is unrelated to gambling strange and possibly naive. Just because gambling is illegal in the UAE doesn't mean that it doesn't happen - it does and in huge amounts. Like most match-fixing, I'm pretty sure the main motivation for this fraud is betting fraud. What phantom races allow is the fraudster to build up a false profile of the horse (ie make it look a lot better and fitter than it is). This increases the odds it attracts on bets laying its performance in a long prestigious (real) races. The fraudster then bets against the horse in the real (long) race at good odds knowing full well it'll break down, fail to finish or even die given it has never covered the race distance before. So this is both a betting fraud and animal welfare issue.


    • Sean Cottrell

      • 11 November 2015 at 16:30
      • #

      Hi Ian, thanks very much for the comment. I agree that corruption due to betting is a real risk. However, I would question the liquidity of the betting market on Endurance racing and therefore the motivation in this case. But obviously respect your expert opinion on this matter. To be fair to Elizabeth and Arun they were encouraged to focus on the welfare issues in the article as in my opinion this was an issue not widely covered in the sports law media whereas the betting angle, has been covered extensively was raised by the author initially.

      In your opinion do you think that betting on Endurance racing would be the main driver of this fraud?


  • Ian Smith

    • 11 November 2015 at 16:47
    • #

    Hi Sean - impossible to know the liquidity because of the illegal/underground nature of the market; but I'm lead to believe the more prestigious races attract vast sums in betting. In terms of betting fraud being the main driver (as opposed to being just one of the drivers), I'm not certain. The class structure in the UAE means that it is entirely possible that another motivation is to move up into a higher echelon of Emirati society and to hobnob in the owners circle with a "better" class of person and to acquire, by fraud, the kudos of being an owner of a horse good enough to get into the top events... hard to know really. I bear in mind, for example, that enormous importance is given in the UAE, amongst many things, to how many numbers appear on your car number plate and that gives you some idea of how important and complex the various strata of society are from the royal family downwards and, certainly, horse ownership is another important indicator of one's place in Emirati society. I think its complex, but, as a rule of thumb, sports fraud is usually betting fraud. As you know, I believe it's "always about the money"...


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