'I am a lot but I am not corrupt'
In an exclusive article, Harry Findlay says his six-month ban from racing was unjust and had to be overturned
F IRST things first and I have to admit that I am one of those people who you will either love or hate. I'm fine with that -- it's always been that way for me and it always will be. But I am what I am, what you see is what you get.
I know I have a reputation for having a big mouth and sure I have had plenty to say down the years, but what harm has it been? None, that's what.
And yet for a guy known for having my say, a guy who is very much out there in the public domain, I have stayed quiet for the last three months about the single biggest cause of upset and stress in my life: the events surrounding my six-month ban by the British Horseracing Authority for breaching its rules on laying horses.
There has been plenty said about me, plenty more written about me, and I have held my counsel. Now, I'd like to give my side of the story.
The facts are simple, yet worth repeating. Here's how it was told in the Daily Telegraph in June: 'The BHA accepted that Findlay had no corrupt motive when he laid Gullible Gordon, owned by his mother Maggie, at Exeter on October 21, 2008 and at Chepstow on October 10 last year. His win bets significantly outweighed his 'lay' bets. But Findlay's actions were clearly in breach of the rules of racing, as they stand, and officials were obliged to take action. In racing circles, there was shock at the severity of the penalty, his ban running from June 11 to December 10.'
The story also made the following point: 'Findlay's owning interests are conducted by his mother, but for the purposes of betting, a close family member's horse is deemed to be the equivalent of that person owning the horse.'
I appealed the severity of the punishment, which had shocked the racing world. At all times I was open -- I was certainly guilty under the letter of the law but I was not guilty under the spirit of the law. Remember, I was a net backer, not a layer.
On July 15, I successfully had the six-month ban overturned by the BHA's appeal board and I was left to pay a fine of £4,500. I have not made any public comment since. Which is more than can be said for the BHA, whose Head of Communications Paul Struthers continues to have discussions about the details of my case on internet racing forums.
However, I am still adamant that I should not have been charged by the BHA in the first place. That's why I had to win the appeal, because if I'm banned anyone can say anything about me. I know in my heart that 95 per cent of people with any interest in racing still think I am corrupt even in spite of the ruling and the facts of the case.
As soon as the BHA issued a press release saying I was banned, every half hour on BBC Radio 5 the headline ran 'Denman's Gold Cup winning owner banned for six months for laying his own horses'. It was never mentioned they were hedge-bets. People who don't understand the intricacies of gambling will have thought then -- and are likely to still think now -- that I am corrupt.
I know I am a lot of things, but I am not corrupt. I know, for example, that I am not popular with everyone. And I know too that I am definitely not popular among a lot of people in the BHA. I know of one official who said at a dinner in the presence of a prominent racehorse trainer that he would get Harry Findlay warned off months before the charge was brought about.
The fact is I believe I should never have been charged in the first place. Especially if you realise that the BHA look at my betting accounts every single day. Based on those accounts it could only identify one single transgression (apart from laying Denman for £121 which it accepted was an error). And that single transgression still made me a substantial net backer of the horse (Gullible Gordon). On account of that, the investigator responsible for monitoring my betting patterns begged the BHA not to charge me.
I don't intend to rake over the facts of the trial or the ban or the appeal -- that information is all in the public domain -- but I do want to explain some things that are not public knowledge. The only public statement from BHA chairman Paul Roy on the affair is as follows: "The BHA never gave permission to Harry Findlay to lay horses in yards where he has horses in training."
Actually, I did receive permission, at my home by the two BHA investigators examining my case. They did it over a two-hour discussion. We even laughed and joked about it. I said to them, 'If you stop me doing that, it means I can't lay anything -- I've got horses in nearly 14 trainers' yards'. We laughed at how many hundred grands behind I was, laying Nicholls' horses. We exchanged phone numbers. I said to them 'If I lay four or five Nicholls losers, or Channon losers, on the trot and you're not happy about it and you think I've got some kind of information or some kind of edge -- you ring me and that will stop'.
That phone call never came and I still do it. I laid Aim To Prosper -- Brian Meehan's horse that subsequently won the Cesarewitch -- at Ascot the day Frankie Dettori rode four winners. He should have been 5/1, but he was 5/2 so I laid it because I'm allowed to do it.
Most people don't realise the impact and potential consequences a six-month ban had -- or could have had -- on me. Without the support of the Sangster family at Manton, I would almost certainly have disappeared down the plughole. We own 10 horses in partnership.
The day I was banned Guy Sangster was told, 'Harry Findlay's not allowed in the yard, he's not allowed in the driveway of the yard. If he meets you in the pub, you can't talk about horses. You can't even talk about the bills'. No one was allowed to talk to me when I was banned. I wasn't allowed any prizemoney for the horses; I wasn't allowed to pay any bills.
But more than all that, it was known in racing circles that I had gone to the sales and with my last few quid I bought 16 two-year-olds. Every penny I had was tied up in those two-year-olds I had the balls to buy. The ban would have been just as the horses were coming to fruition. If it had been any other person -- without the financial muscle of Manton and the Sangster family -- they'd have had to sell all those horses immediately because they wouldn't have had the finances to keep them going. The Sangsters paid for my half. Otherwise they'd have had to sell £600,000 worth of horses, none of which had run, and take what they could get for them. If the ban had stood, the BHA may as well have hung me up and left me out to dry.
The past months personally have been very difficult for me and very frustrating. My approach to Nic Coward -- chief executive of the BHA -- at Doncaster last month to challenge him on the BHA's motives and conduct towards me resulted in a warning letter from Paul Scotney (BHA Director of Security) telling me that because of my behaviour "you are on notice that you may be removed from racecourse property or subsequently refused entry to racecourses".
I've got a lot of support within horseracing and lots of people know what's going on here. Even Mark Davies, former Head of Communications and one of the first to join Betfair in his blog on September 27, said: "The gossip was that Findlay was being encouraged to attend the racecourse on St Leger day . . . Apparently, someone who shall remain nameless was trying to persuade Harry not to spend his Saturday at home watching sport on the box (as usual), while not only tabloid journalists but plain-clothed policemen were being set up to witness, and act upon, the fact that he "wouldn't be able to control himself" if he were indeed to attend.
"Wait, before ejecting him, till he has his hands on the lapels," the brief allegedly was, "so that the photographers can get a decent shot."
From the moment a statement was leaked to the press saying "a leading Paul Nicholls owner is involved in an ongoing enquiry regarding the laying of his own horses," I have felt that the BHA has been out to get me.
After an exhaustive enquiry they found just one occasion where I was in breach of laying my own horse (in spite of being a net backer) and even then ignored the advice of the investigator who discovered the offence not to charge me. My name has been blackened because to this day if you ask people they still think I'm banned in spite of winning the appeal.
I won't run horses in my colours in protest; my mother's still upset; and my wife will never go racing again. People ask me why I don't just let it go. Racing is just a hobby for me nowadays. I don't make money out of it. I'm doing this for the good of racing.