Rachel Wyse: Heffernan tale a sad reminder of racing's dark side
Published 02/02/2013 | 16:06
I don't know Andrew Heffernan. I have never met the young man in my life. His story is a sad one, one, which I suspect is full of regrets. It's hard not to feel some sympathy.
He has made big mistakes, foolish decisions and shown incredible naivety – now it appears there will be no second chance. A reality with no way back. He is destined to pay the ultimate price.
Heffernan is the latest jockey to find himself in breach of racing rules. On January 25 the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) found him guilty of corrupt behaviour for which he has received two 15-year bans to run concurrently.
The jockey, along with eight other individuals, was said to have conspired to commit a fraudulent act. In summary, Heffernan received money for passing information to individuals which enabled his acquaintances to take improper advantage in lay betting markets.
He was also found guilty of stopping three horses in return for financial rewards. The evidence presented was as compelling as the verdict was damning.
Heffernan's behaviour was disgraceful. He has damaged the sport, his profession and, in all probability, ruined his career as a jockey.
Whatever his reasons for doing it – and one can speculate about a young man simply succumbing to the lure of easy money – they are irrelevant. His actions were absolutely wrong.
If the severity of Heffernan's sentence is an indicator of BHA's future intentions, then it is a welcome shift.
In an ongoing battle with corruption, it sends a very clear message. Let's hope it's not just a one-off case whereby an example is made of a lower profile jockey that facilitates the powers that be to reference a case that supposedly illustrates their unwillingness to tolerate misdemeanours.
This is not new territory. Racing's authorities have been here before and for some less serious offences their rulings haven't always sent such a powerful message.
Fergal Lynch has admitted to stopping a horse from winning in August 2004. He was assisting a punter who had backed the horse to lose. The BHA removed Lynch's license in the UK forcing him to move to America. He currently is licensed to ride in Ireland.
In 2007, jockeys Shane Kelly, Josh Byrne and David Nolan were banned for passing information to an individual who had already been warned off. The largest ban handed down was 12 months. Also in 2007, a similar ban was imposed on Robert Winston when he was found guilty of passing information for reward.
In 2011, veteran rider Jimmy Quinn received a six-month ban for conspiracy to corrupt.
Today Kelly, Nolan, Winston, and Quinn are all licensed jockeys in the UK. The consequences for them were brief.
The commentary on these cases all too often focuses on all-weather Flat racing, identifying the paltry prize money as the reason individuals become tempted by corruption.
Does anyone seriously believe, though, that the problem is mainly confined to the the all-weathers?
Bookmaker John Banks was 'warned off' for three years in 1978, after he and John Francome, a leading jumps jockey at the time, were found guilty of conduct likely to cause serious damage to the interests of horse racing.
Twenty-four years later, Gold cup-winning jockey Graham Bradley was warned off for eight years after being found guilty of also passing on information. Both Bradley and Francome plied their trade a long way from the all-weather surfaces of Lingfield Park or Wolverhampton.
To blame all-weather racing is an easy way out, a way of avoiding the issue and a way of protecting too many vested interests.
Racing has always had a nod-and-wink culture, one that thrives on inside information. Quite simply, not enough is done by racing authorities to address the culture or police the environment.
People who go racing regularly in Ireland and the UK are aware of the links between characters of the betting ring and some jockeys and trainers.
They socialise together, holiday together and, no doubt at some point, they get around to discussing racing together.
Life without links to jockeys and trainers would be very harsh existence for professional punters.
This is an accepted fact until some glaring event causes the outside world to focus on racing and this sends the authorities into overdrive.
It's a culture not spoken of and one the racing media tends to avoid. Racing has a glamorous side which makes for easier viewing.
In the Irish edition of last Saturday's 'Racing Post', Heffernan's story wasn't front-page news. As part of a very brief discussion, Channel 4's 'Morning Line' analyst Graham Cunningham referred to the jockey as "a rotten apple."
Such apples are usually the exception, and, who knows, perhaps Heffernan is just that? Regardless, it creates a damaging perception.
Horse Racing Ireland's 2012 industry statistics show fixtures increased by 4.2pc, with the average attendance down 7.2pc.
Revenue of on-course bookmakers decreased by 22pc; revenue in on-course betting shops fell 15.3pc and on-course tote revenue was down 16.6pc.
Statistics can often be misleading, but in this case it's difficult not to see the obvious. A harsh economic climate has contributed to the current landscape, but it must be noted that high-street bookmakers continue to prosper. So, why aren't people going to racing meetings and betting on tracks?
It seems people would rather spend their betting money elsewhere. Is the culture of racing an issue?
How often have you heard people speak of it being a futile game unless you have inside information? Do we see any measures or discussions around such cultures?
Perhaps those you expect to initiate such discussions have too much to lose. They speak of 'Racing for Change' and broadening racing's appeal to the wider public. This might be a good place to start.
Horse racing should be all about the horses, their extraordinary capabilities and their ability to stir emotions. Too often people get in the way. l Rachel Wyse can be see presenting Sky Sports News