Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sometimes, there are no winners

Sometimes, there are no winners

By Stephen Dwyer

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same”. Meaningful words, taken from Kipling’s famous poem “If”. It is a phrase that springs to mind when the decision to reverse the six month ban handed down to Harry Findlay was returned on appeal by Sir Roger Buckley. Five weeks ago, the BHA handed the most famous gambler in British racing a six month ban along with being warned off visiting a racecourse for the same duration. These punitive measures were taken for a rule break which was in direct contravention of the rules of racing. This rule states that an owner cannot lay a horse he owns with a betting organisation to lose a race. You draw water to your own mill it is said, but in this case the punishment did not fit the crime.

Of all people, Harry Findlay knows triumph and disaster; he understands what it feels like to win £1 million (twice) on a horse of his winning an RSA and Gold Cup. His gambling style, like it or loath it, takes some beating. He describes it fittingly as “glory or the bullet”. Findlay now understands what it feels like to have the rug pulled from under him by an authority that encourages horse racing ownership. In the space of five weeks, he has become isolated and resigned.

This has culminated in one of the most high-profile owners in racing ending his association with champion trainer, Paul Nicholls. He has gifted his share in Denman to Paul Barber. Ferdy Murphy is now training Big Fella Thanks and all his other horses are entered in the Doncaster Sales. Findlay has lost a stone in weight and the horse that was involved in this issue has been sold to Bunty Millard. All changed, changed utterly.

Leading law firm, DC Employment Solicitors, represented Findlay (for free) throughout the appeals process. Both solicitor Daryl Cowan and Findlay believed that the ban was excessive, on appeal it was overturned and a £4,500 fine imposed in lieu. This initial ban referred to two bets that Findlay placed on Betfair. In October 2008, Findlay placed a bet of £80,000 on Gullible Gordon, a 1/3 chance winning a £5,000 Class 4 amateurs novice hurdle. He also placed £17,000 on it losing, the horse was beaten and Findlay had a net loss of £62,000.

A year later, the same horse was a 4/6 favourite in a novice chase, Gullible Gordon won this time. Findlay had £64,000 on him to win but he also laid the horse off at £32,000. He came out with a profit of £35,000. The race itself was worth £10,000. When questioned, Findlay told At The Races: “The first race at Exeter I made a technical error and pressed the wrong button.”The second one we had a big bet before the race and as a gambler I called my friend and had a big bet on Gullible Gordon and he had a bit more on and laid it in running. “He’s a front-runner and a bit of a character. We were certainly wrong to do so”.

Findlay did not break the rules so much as stress test them. In essence, Findlay was a net backer of Gullible Gordon. Both times when he backed him, he stood to lose if the horse lost, and stood to profit if the horse won. Also his back bets far outweighed his lay bets on Gullible Gordon and no other punter was defrauded. The BHA must now examine their rulebook long and hard to decide if their treatment of banning an owner placing lay bets on his own horse warrants the level of reputational, professional and largely irreparable damage suffered by Harry Findlay.

If he backed a string of his horses to lose, he would be defrauding the betting public and then there would be a cast-iron case. Findlay, who lost £2.5 million on New Zealand winning the 2007 rugby world cup is a law onto himself, he believed “de minimis non curat lex” – the law does not concern itself with trifles.

In this case there are no winners; the biggest loser is not the BHA, Paul Nicholls, Harry Findlay or Betfair. The biggest loser by far has to be simple, common sense.

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