Results of an Appeal (C. Bickers-Price) and Enquiries (S. Burdett, D. Fox) heard by the Disciplinary Panel on Thursday 22 March 2018
published on 27 March 2018
27th March 2018
Appeal, Callum Bickers-Price
1. On 22 March 2018 the Independent Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Autnority (BHA) heard an appeal by the amateur jockey, Callum Bickers-Price, against the decision of the Towcester Stewards on 15 March 2018 that he was in breach of Rule (D)45.3.2 of the Rules of Racing in respect of his riding of CROWDED ROOM (IRE) in the Starspreads,com Open Hunters Steeple Chase and was suspended for eight days. By this Rule “the Rider must pull up the horse where . . . it would be contrary to the horse’s welfare to continue riding out because the horse (9D)126.96.36.199) has no more to give or is ‘tailed off’ through fatigue”.
2. Mr Lyn Williams presented the case on behalf of the BHA. Mr Bickers-Price appeared in person.
3. The panel viewed a video of the race. It showed Mr Bickers-Price’s mount, CROWDED ROOM (IRE), leading the field of four for most of the race until about the third last fence when he was overtaken by the first two finishers. By the next fence CROWDED ROOM (IRE) had been passed by the third horse. Between the last two fences CROWDED ROOM (IRE) faded significantly and at the last fence was many lengths behind the third horse. CROWDED ROOM (IRE) made an effort to jump the last fence but was unable to do more than lift its front legs half way up the fence. The going at Towcester on the day in question was heavy.
4. CROWDED ROOM (IRE) was subsequently examined by the veterinary officer. The examination took place after the horse had been treated for mild heat stress. The vet considered that the horse did not look “overly distressed” and concluded that it was tired but not exhausted.
5. Mr Bickers-Price addressed the Panel and gave a full and detailed account of his ride on CROWDED ROOM (IRE), and particularly the latter stages of the race, of which what is set out below is a brief summary. He said he had ridden the horse in point-to-points and knew the horse well. The third horse had jumped across him at the second last which had unbalanced his horse. But after the fence he had struck the horse twice with his whip and he seemed to pick up. As he approached the last fence the horse became very weary, and though initially he hoped the horse would clamber over and earn some prize money by being fourth, at the last moment he realised the horse was unlikely to get over and he angled the horse to the wing of the fence in the expectation that he would pull himself up. CROWDED ROOM (IRE) was his own horse and he would never have put its safety or welfare at risk.
6. On our viewing of the race, we cannot fully accept Mr Bickers-Price’s account. Though he did not aggressively drive or push the horse into the last fence, he sat still and did nothing to restrain the horse’s forward movement. We consider that he was hoping the horse would find the strength to "fiddle" his way over the fence and thereby earn fourth prize. After the penultimate fence the horse tired rapidly as indicated by the distance the third horse was able to put between it and CROWDED ROOM (IRE) in the short distance before the last fence. To apply the wording of Rule (D)188.8.131.52 well before the last fence the horse had “no more to give”. It should have been pulled up.
7. The Stewards were accordingly right to find Mr Bickers-Price in breach of the Rule.
8. Mr Bickers-Price also appealed against the penalty of eight days suspension claiming it was too harsh, particularly as it was his very first ride under Rules. He also maintained that there were horses in previous races at Towcester that day which had finished in a worse condition than CROWDED ROOM (IRE) and the riders had not been penalised.
9. Eight days suspension is the "entry point" given in the BHA Guide to Procedures and Penalties for breaches of Rule (D)45.3.2., so it cannot be described as manifestly too severe. However, in our view there were mitigating factors which warranted a lesser penalty. They included Mr Bickers-Price’s inexperience which encompassed unfamiliarity with Towcester Racecourse which has a steep uphill finish which can cause a horse to tire rapidly, especially in heavy ground. Further Mr Bickers-Price had ridden, and won on, the horse in three mile point-to-points so had grounds for expecting it to last out the distance of this hunter-chase. We also take into account the vet’s verdict that the horse was tired but not distressed or exhausted. Accordingly, we will reduce the period of suspension to three days on 29 March 2018, 31 March 2018 and 2 April 2018. We should add that we cannot, and do not take into consideration the Stewards actions or inactions in relation to riders of other horses in previous races on that day.
10. To the extent of reducing the penalty from eight days suspension to three days suspension this appeal is allowed. The deposit will be returned.
1. On 22 March 2018 the Independent Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) held an enquiry into whether or not Stephen Burdett had committed breaches of Rule (E)92.2 of the Rules of Racing by placing lay bets with a betting organisation on CRAGGAKNOCK, a horse owned at the material time by a company of which Mr Burdett is a director, on two occasions in May 2017 to lose races.
2. Mr Burdett was represented by Mr Tim Clarke, and Mr Andrew Howell presented the case on behalf of the BHA.
3. Rule (E)92.2 simply states that a “Listed Person must not lay any horse he owns with a Betting Organisation to lose a race”, and a “Listed Person” includes any owner, or where the owner is a company, any director of the company.
4. Mr Burdett admitted the breaches of the Rules alleged.
5. What the Panel has, therefore, to determine is the appropriate penalty. That requires a review of the basic facts, which are not in dispute and are set out below.
Background and facts
6. Sometime prior to May 2017 Mr Burdett acquired a majority share in a 6 year old gelding called CRAGGAKNOCK which had run with some success on the flat and over hurdles. The horse had been introduced to Mr Burdett by the trainer, Mark Walford, and he or his wife took a 25% interest in the horse. The ownership of the 75% was registered in the name of a company owned by Mr Burdett and his wife, called Alfa Site Services Ltd. Mr Burdett was its sole director. The business of the company is civil engineering. In the year ended 31 May 2017 it recorded a turnover exceeding £14 million, and a profit (before taxation) of over £1.4 million.
7. Mr Burdett had an account with Betfair. Mr Burdett placed a substantial number of bets on racehorses with Betfair. (Records of his account were included in the Panel’s bundle and over a six year period they filled about 270 pages). Most of the bets were for three figure sums though some were substantially larger. Very few of the bets were lay bets.
8. On 13 May 2017 between the hours of 12.46 and 19.22 there was recorded on Mr Burdett’s account 22 lay bets on CRAGGAKNOCK which was running in the 19.30 race at Warwick, a handicap hurdle. 20 of the bets were placed in the "win market" and two in the "place market". The total liability was £9,905. The horse finished fourth of five. The pre-commission profit was £1,586.
9. On 25 May 2017 between 14.42 and 14.45 there was recorded on Mr Burdett’s account 13 lay bets on CRAGGAKNOCK in the 14.45 race at Warwick, a handicap hurdle. All bets were placed in the "win market" with a consequential liability totalling £16,193. The horse finished fifth. The pre-commission profit amounted to £4,829.
10. As a result of these transactions Betfair immediately suspended Mr Burdett’s account and informed the BHA that it had done so giving as its reason unusual lay betting activity.
11. On 5 June 2017 Mr Walford contacted the BHA Integrity Department and informed it that Mr Burdett had visited his yard to discuss the recent suspension of his Betfair account which he said had been due to an accidental lay bet on CRAGGAKNOCK on 25 May. On 7 June Mr Burdett contacted the Department and asserted that his betting transactions on 25 May had been made in error. The BHA informed Mr Burdett that in due course he would be interviewed by Investigating Officers.
12. The interview took place on 3 August 2017 at Mr Burdett’s home. The Investigating Officers were Nathan Taylor and Tim Miller. It lasted a little over an hour and a quarter. Mr Burdett confirmed that he had and regularly used an account at Betfair albeit the user name for the account was that of his son. His wife had access to the account. Mr Burdett stressed that he did not lay horses: “I don’t lay horses, full stop”, a statement repeated on many occasions in the interview. His explanation for the lay bets on 13 and 25 May was that his wife placed the bets on his behalf by means of a computer, and accidentally clicked the wrong button with the result that the bet was a lay bet and not, as was intended, a back bet. On both days he and his wife were on a caravan holiday in Cornwall. He could not remember anything about the race on the 13th. He did not see the race. He could not remember backing the horse himself or giving instructions to his wife. He assumed that she must have effected the transactions with Betfair on his instructions which would have been to back the horse. As for the 25 May he left a message with his wife to put £5,000 on the horse as he was going to the beach to walk the dog. He did not watch the race live, only a replay. The amount staked on the lay bet, almost £5,000, was not “a massive deal”. He only discovered his wife’s error when he next tried to log into his Betfair account to find it was suspended.
13. Following this interview Mr Taylor spoke to the trainer, Mark Walford, and the jockey, Jamie Moore who rode CRAGGAKNOCK at Warwick on 13 and 25 May. Mr Walford was satisfied with the horse’s runs on both occasions. Mr Moore said that he had never spoken to or met Mr Burdett and described the horse’s jumping in both races as “sketchy”.
14. On 4 September 2017 Mr Taylor received a telephone call from Mr Burdett asking for a further interview. That took place at Mr Burdett’s house on 6 September 2017 with Mr Taylor and another BHA Investigator, John Burgess. At the outset Mr Burdett explained that he “wanted to basically come clean, stop wasting everybody’s time and resources and just try and put it all to bed as quickly as possible.” He admitted that it was he who had layed CRAGGAKNOCK with Betfair on 13 and 25 May. Before 13 May he had been to Mr Walford’s stables and had seen the horse jumping wooden pallets and formed the view that it “can’t win because it just can’t jump”. When he did not win Mr Burdett considered that he had ‘proved his point’ and when he ran again on 25 May he reckoned nothing would have changed as regards its jumping: ”I still thought it were a good lay bet.” He said that at the first interview he panicked. He had been advised by a friend not to admit anything, and later not to change his story. He was now going against all that advice.
Mr Burdett’s evidence to the Panel at the enquiry
15. Mr Burdett described his extensive involvement in racing, as an owner, an organiser of syndicates and as a breeder. He said that he had always gambled and always backed his own horses, quite often to win thousands. Having visited Mr Walford’s stable and seen that wooden pallets were the trial jumps for the horses he trained he (Mr Burdett) decided he could not back CRAGGAKNOCK to win, he could only lay him to lose. At the time he did not know it was wrong. He was not thinking of financial gain, but of proving to himself that the trainer, who had claimed that he had got the horse back to his best form, was wrong. He was going to give the £5,000 he had won to charity.
16. In the BHA Guide to Procedures and Penalties the ‘entry ‘point for a breach of Rule (E)92.2 is disqualification for 18 months with a range of between 9 months and 10 years. It is regarded as a serious offence as the Rule is directed at protecting the integrity of racing in the perception of the racing and betting public. Mr Clarke has submitted that in the circumstances of this case, where there is no underlying conspiracy to deceive or dishonesty, a fine, or a brief period of disqualification would be sufficient penalty. We readily accept the absence of any corrupt plot to ensure the horse did not win, as unhappily there can be in cases involving a breach of this Rule, but a primary purpose of the Rule is to prohibit owners exploiting for financial gain inside information obtained in their capacity as an owner to the detriment of others without access to such information. That is what Mr Burdett did in this case. He has claimed that he did not know that an owner is prohibited from lay betting on horses he owns. We have difficulty in accepting that assertion. The Rule has existed for several years, and there have been a number of well publicised cases against offenders. In any event, when asked by Mr Taylor on 6 September 2017 what he understood the Rules to be as regards an owner laying his own horse Mr Burdett replied, “me gut feeling said you’re not allowed to do it. . . I’ve never read it anywhere . . . but I’m pretty sure common sense tells you you don’t lay your own horses”. Mr Burdett has also maintained that his motive was not at heart financial gain - £5,000 meant little or nothing to him: he wanted to “prove a point”, which we understood to be that the horse would not win until he had been taught to jump. Again we are sceptical. The sequence of events tells its own story. On 13 May 2017 Mr Burdett, probably for the first time lays his own horse, to win by his standards a modest amount. But within a fortnight he repeats the venture for significantly large sums at stake and significantly larger winnings. It seems to us that after the first trial of lay betting was successful, Mr Burdett decided that on the second occasion he would try and win what he regarded as a decent sum of money.
17. We consider that the entry point of 18 months disqualification is a suitable penalty without taking into account mitigating or aggravating factors. In the normal event admission of the breaches alleged would merit the reduction of the penalty by a third. There have been such admissions by Mr Burdett. But we cannot ignore his initial stance which was to vehemently deny that he had laid the horse to lose. His intention. he claimed, was to back the horse to win, and it was only his wife’s error in clicking on the wrong key when endeavouring to implement his instructions that led to a lay bet being recorded. This was all untrue and intended to mislead the BHA Investigators. In the circumstances we cannot reduce the entry point figure by more than three months. The penalty we impose is fifteen months disqualification from 22 March 2018 to 21 June 2019 inclusive.
1. On 22 March 2018 the Independent Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) held an enquiry into whether or not Derek Fox, a professional jockey, had committed a breach of Schedule (B)6 part 2 of the Rules of Racing in respect of his use of the whip when riding IMJOEKING (IRE) in the Tennent’s Lager Handicap Steeplechase at Ayr on 10 March 2018. The matter had been referred to the Panel by the Ayr Stewards because this would be Mr Fox’s fifth offence of misuse of the whip in the last 6 months which had resulted in a penalty of between 2 and 6 days suspension.
2. Mr Fox was represented by Mr Rory Mac Neice. Mr Lyn Willams presented the case on behalf of the BHA.
3. The misuse of the whip was alleged to be hitting the horse in the wrong place, namely on its ribcage, and not on its quarters. The Ayr Stewards found that IMJOEKING (IRE) was hit three times on its rib cage by Mr Fox’s whip in the run in from the last fence, twice in a backhand movement and once with a forehand grip. Each of those hits could merit a penalty of at least two days suspension. Mr Fox had already been penalised on four occasions in the preceding 6 months with a 2-day suspension for misuse of the whip. Hence the referral to the Panel. Mr Fox did not dispute that at Ayr he hit his mount in the wrong place on three occasions.
4. The Panel first had to decide the number of times Mr Fox hit the horse in the wrong place. We are not bound by the finding of the Ayr Stewards, or the admission of Mr Fox. If we considered there were more than three hits in the incorrect place the penalty could be more than 6 days suspension, and the procedures applying to a fifth suspension of 2-6 days in the last 6 months might not apply
5. We therefore carefully viewed a video of the race focusing on its final stages. On the run from the last fence Mr Fox undoubtedly hit his mount more than three times. But in respect of some of the hits it was not possible to identify precisely where on the horse they landed. Any doubts have to be resolved in favour of the Rider. Accordingly, we reached the same conclusion as that of the Ayr Stewards, that there were clearly three hits which landed on the ribs of IMJOEKING (IRE).
6. Thus, the procedures referred to in paragraph 4 above do apply. The period of suspension the Panel will usually apply for a fifth suspension is between 14 and 42 days, with an ‘entry point’ of 21 days. Mr Mac Neice drew attention to the proximity of the first suspension on 28 September 2017 to the limitation period of six months (on 28 March 2018 this suspension would no longer count) but we do not consider this is a ground for diminishing the entry point. We do take account of the fact that in the last 6 months Mr Fox had 174 rides, so 169 of them did not involve any misuse of the whip, that on each of the previous occasions the penalty was the minimum period of suspension, which would indicate the breaches were relatively minor, and that in the case of IMJOEKING (IRE) the horse was large and long causing difficulties to the jockey in reaching back to the horse’s quarters, and two of the three hits were in the backhand which would have lessened their strength.
7. In the circumstances we consider the appropriate penalty is suspension for 18 days, 6 days of which will be suspended for two months. The suspension is from Saturday 31 March 2018 to Thursday 12 April 2018 inclusive where jump racing is scheduled. The 6 days would be deferred until 12 June 2018.
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