Discipline, Offshoring and Decimals

Disciplinary issues have been making the news in the last week with two cases, in particular, catching the eye.

The first involves the warning off of trainer Jeff Pearce and jockey Jerry O’Dwyer along with several others, in a somewhat complex case.

Now I don’t intend revisiting all the subtleties of the case here, but the full BHA press release can be found here.

However reading the report some very interesting questions are raised.

The first is the threshold level for “conviction”.

Reading the report of the case (and the BHA must be praised for publishing a full briefing) it is abundantly clear the criteria is very much the civil  “balance of probability” as opposed to the criminal  “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Taking it further it is also clear, reading the judgement, the panel definitely seems to work towards the lower end of the balance of probability spectrum.

Now this approach may be justified as disciplinary proceedings clearly are “civil” not “criminal” - although the inclusion of words like conspiracy in the charges do make you wonder.

Having the lower threshold in these types of proceedings is, generally, no bad thing and it allows for the effective administration of disciplinary matters. Most disciplinary proceedings usually result in a slapped wrist, fine or a suspension of days or weeks.

However there are cases, such as this, where the punishment results in a significant ban, which effectively prevents the “guilty” party from plying their trade. In these cases should there not be a higher bar in terms of balance of probability, as the implications of such a ban are extremely serious for those found guilty, effectively denying them their livelihood?

I understand Pearce is going to lodge an appeal and it will be interesting to see how that pans out and how his legal team approaches the appeal.

More worrying than the burden of proof issue though, is the behaviour of the BHA investigators, which can best be described as unprofessional.

They seem to be acting as judge and jury, making a presumption of guilt rather than being detached investigators.

Moreover, comments made during questioning of witnesses proved to be misleading, clearly in an attempt to force a “confession”. Methinks the BHA investigators have been watching too many episodes of Life On Mars or The Sweeny, they need to come into the 21st century.

Not only was the approach of the investigators unacceptable, it actually seriously serves to undermine the credibility of the BHA and the good work they are attempting to do to clean up the sport.

Sadly this is not the first time the somewhat murky workings of the BHA’s investigation department have come under scrutiny.

It has been almost universally agreed, except seemingly within the BHA security department itself, their handling of the Fallon debacle was, at best, unprofessional and arguably incompetent and inept.

It seems they have not learned from what has gone on before and one wonders why the investigators in this case and the head of security, Paul Scotney, are not themselves facing charges of bringing racing into disrepute.

It is also interesting, but not surprising, most of the racing media seem to have picked up on these deficiencies.

It is also amazing Scotney manages to remain in post, as his department is once again shown to fall below the standards that should reasonably be expected. Does he have any credibility left?

Of course the Pearce case will pale into insignificance when, next month, trainer Howard Johnson faces some very serious charges in relation to the welfare of some of the horses in his care.

It would be wrong to comment on the details of the case in advance of any hearing and he is, of course, innocent of any allegations until proven otherwise.

However there will be very close scrutiny on this case, not only from within racing but, undoubtedly, from the wider media as well.

This is one case racing cannot afford to get wrong, not only in the presentation of its case but, should Johnson be found guilty, the appropriateness of any penalty is handed down.

The three year ban handed down to Pearce for what, by comparison, is a much less serious offence, sets a very interesting standard for the Johnson case.

The BHA have made great inroads into cleaning up the sport and they should be applauded for that. However the Pearce case has also thrown some light on the questionable goings-on in the pursuit of “justice”.

We now face a very high profile case, with potential ramifications outside the closed world of racing. I sincerely hope the BHA have got this one right.

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Before I begin this next section allow me to lay my cards on the table. I do not work for a bookmaker, nor am I a spokesman for bookmakers.

Also, although I should perhaps go and double check, I do not knowingly own any shares in any bookmaking firm.

Indeed I would go as far to say I have serious reservations about the role of bookmakers in this sport of ours. In an ideal world I would dearly love to see a Tote monopoly, with all profits from the Tote being ploughed back into the sport.

However that ain’t going to happen and love them or loath them the bookmakers are here to stay.

So it may come as some surprise that I am about to defend them.

Last week the home of liberal, left wing, thinking The Guarniad broke the story that The Tote was following most British bookmakers and moving some of its operations offshore – shock horror!!

Cue all the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth about bookmakers moving offshore to avoid having to pay Levy or to optimise their tax liabilities.

Looking at the emotive reaction in some quarters you would have thought the executives of these bookmakers had been raping and pillaging the families of these vociferous opponents.

By moving operations offshore the directors are simply fulfilling their obligations as directors, to maximise the profitability of their organisation. The same principle applies to the Tote, even if it is “owned” by the Government.

Any impact on the Levy should not be a consideration when making such decisions.

The fact the Levy is anachronistic and is of little real benefit to anybody is neither here nor there for the sake of this argument. The Levy only remains in place because those who are supposed to run racing do not have the nouse or financial wherewithal to negotiate a better commercial alternative.

The bottom line is the directors are working in the best interests of their organisations and, ultimately, their shareholders.

As it happens I totally agree with what the bookmakers are doing in terms of moving offshore, it is sound business practice. Yes it may have a negative impact on jobs in the UK and that is unfortunate, at an individual level, for those whose jobs are impacted. However business is business and people losing jobs is part and parcel of business, is a fact of life, always has been, always will be.

However, even if I did not agree with offshoring, I certainly wouldn’t shout about it, criticising it from the rooftops, for the simple reason it would be hypocritical of me.

Why?

Because I employ an accountant to ensure my tax liabilities are minimised, absolutely no different, in principle, to what the bookmakers are doing.

I wonder how many of those protesting so vociferously about the big bad bookmakers moving offshore, actually employ accountants to ensure their liabilities are minimised? I suspect a significant number of them!!!         

Staying on the subject of bookmakers, there has also been the predictable wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth as a new range of fractional odds are introduced by bookmakers.

The new odds 9/5, 11/5, 12/5, 13/5, 14/5, 16/5, 17/5, 18/5 and 19/5 made their first appearance yesterday and the “traditionalists” are up in arms about the changes.

My view is bring it on, as it takes us one step nearer to a long overdue switch to decimal odds.

There are those who will argue fractional odds are traditional, they are but that does not make them a sacred cow. If we followed that tack we would still be spending pounds, shillings, pence and farthings.

Most people work with decimals every day, it is what people are used to and what they understand. Fractions in betting are confusing, especially to newcomers, and they will put people off.

Your average racegoers will have to think twice as to whether 7/4 is better or worse than 15/8, yet with 1.75 and 1.87 it is not only immediately clear which is better, it is also much simpler to calculate how much return there will be.

Decimal odds also offer greater choice for both the punter and the bookmaker. Instead of the current, arbitrary, range of odds that are available, having decimal odds will offer greater choice and, I believe, will make the ring more competitive.

Talking of traditions, the BHA announced the introduction of a new stalls draw numbering system to “bring us in line with the rest of the world” personally I think the new system is more confusing but I am not going to lose sleep over it. However in keeping with following the rest of the world I presume all race distances will now be converted to metric and we will do away with furlongs, which are even more anachronistic than our former draw numbering system.

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Last Saturday really hammered home both the good and bad sides of racing.

At Kempton Nicky Henderson ruled supreme winning five, almost six, top contests including dethroning Kauto Star in the King George.

Yet despite having a magnificent afternoon at Kempton I expect Henderson also wishes the meeting at Warwick the same day had failed its early morning inspection. As in the Novices’ Chase Henderson lost one of his most promising youngsters when Peveril took a horrible fall at the last when leading.

An accident which underlines what a fine line there is between glory and tragedy, something that should never be forgotten in this sport of ours.

On the subject of Kauto Star, I hope connections do the right thing and retire him. He has nothing more to prove, he is not going to win another Gold Cup so why run him at Cheltenham. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose.

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Finally, in my last set of musings I mention my friends' wife who was battling against cancer. Sadly she passed away just hours after I published my thoughts, at the too young age of 48, leaving a devastated husband and two young daughters and many, many upset friends.

A lovely lady, taken away by a terrible disease, far too soon, many tears have been and will still be shed, not only at the loss but the unfairness of it all.

As I said last time and I make no apologies for saying again, it puts a load of horses running round a field into some sort of perspective.  

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