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Much ado about the BHA rating of 85

Jonathan Laidlaw QC: described Best's financial situation as 'perilous'
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The BHA hearing into two horses trained by Jim Best being allegedly stopped in races last year momentarily looked like taking on extra runners and riders at the London rehearing on Thursday.

Best, found guilty at the original hearing in February but whose four-year ban was quashed on appeal, raised concerns the BHA was trying to implicate Jamie Moore and Mattie Batchelor in stopping rides on another of his horses.

BHA counsel Louis Weston QC raised the case of Planetoid, who joined Best to go jumping with a similar Flat rating to Echo Brava.

The BHA's whistleblower, rider Paul John, had given evidence that Best had told him to stop Echo Brava at Plumpton and Missile Man at Towcester three days apart last December.

In that statement, John told of a conversation with Best about Echo Brava needing a jumps rating that matched his Flat mark of 85 in order to win over hurdles.

'A clear advantage'

Weston said: "When Planetoid had got a handicap of 85 after six races over jumps, Mr [Anthony] McCoy was jocked up after Mattie Batchelor's car broke down. McCoy won on him twice before, off a mark of 108, he finished third – a clear advantage of a horse having a mark of 85."

Best, calling all John's evidence about stopping-ride conversations "untrue, lies and not true", asked the BHA legal counsel if he was implicating Moore and Batchelor.

The trainer said: "It feels like you're suggesting that this horse was purposefully not run on its merits to get 85 . . . if this is your case, you are suggesting Jamie Moore and Mattie Batchelor were basically riding stopping rides."

It was Best's lawyer, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, who stepped in to put that fire out, saying: "This is an unattractive way to be conducting the case, with two rides under consideration in this case."

A new piece of evidence

The BHA also dug up another new piece of evidence, attempting to lend credence to John's statement that Best had told him he needed to get Echo Brava a rating of 85 over jumps.

Weston referred to an article in The Guardian by Will Hayler in November 2011 in which Hayler, asking about a recent purchase, School For Scandal, quoted Best as telling him: "Get him rated 85 and you might be able to win three or four handicaps before they get to you. But it's exciting to have a horse like him in the yard who might just be a Saturday horse, and that's the sort of horse we want to be training now."

Best, pointing out School For Scandal won his first novice hurdle, retorted: "I don't remember saying anything like that."

At which point panel member William Norris QC, pointing out the article had not been included in papers for this hearing, ended the line of questioning with: "We will file it in the bin."

Unexpected deviation

There was another unexpected deviation when a completely new avenue of investigation was undertaken by Norris, a former amateur rider in the 1980s.

He painted a picture of a reason why a jockey might ride a stopping race on a short-priced runner "on behalf of a gambler or bookmaker who has laid it to lose".

Pointing out that was unlikely to have been the case with Echo Brava (22-1 from 33-1) and Missile Man (14-1), who were not short-priced, he asked whether it might be "to create an artificially lower handicap mark, which is known to happen in racing," adding: "Would that be done on behalf of anyone but the owner and trainer or both?"

That a jockey might stop a horse to get back at an owner or trainer was also a possibility raised, to which Best replied: "No, I don't think that's likely.

"I can only imagine if you are going down that scenario, if a jockey has his own hidden agenda, that he could have someone in the background."

Jack Callaghan, joint-owner of Missile Man and seven others in Best's stable, was indignant there was a suggestion his horse had been stopped and that he was in any way party to such a plot.

"I'm horrified by the suggestion," he said. "I'm not short of money and there is no reason why I would be involved with that motive. Beyond comprehension, it's nonsensical, as the horse was worth slightly more than I paid for it [35,000gns]."

Last day schedule of events

Thursday was a truncated day as Weston had to fly to Ireland after lunch. The hearing is scheduled to finish on Friday, when events are set to include a phone call with Jamie Moore, an appearance by Best's head lad Paul Cooley, more documentary evidence and extensive closing arguments from both lawyers.

The panel announced it would not be reaching a verdict until next week.

If this is your case, you are suggesting Jamie Moore and Mattie Batchelor were basically riding stopping rides

Key data

Jim Best P John
E.W. Terms