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Punters' confidence in racing at risk with 'short suspension'

Jim Best: wife Suzie is applying to take over the licence while he is suspended
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Jim Best’s six-month suspension from training for instructing a rider not to win on two horses has been labelled as “alarming” by a group representing punters, which believes the perceived leniency of the penalty risks damaging the reputation of the sport.

Simon Rowlands, chair of the Horseracing Bettors’ Forum, a group established last year with the help of the BHA to represent the interests of those who bet – or might bet – on horseracing, said the group was surprised at the penalty Best had been given by the disciplinary panel in light of the serious charges on which he was found guilty.

He said: “The HBF respects the independence of the disciplinary panel of the BHA and that due process has been followed. However, the HBF finds it surprising, if not alarming, that a verdict of guilt for such a serious charge can result in such a short suspension from racing.

“It’s absolutely crucial for the health of horseracing that punters have confidence in the integrity of the sport, and at the HBF that’s our main consideration. We believe confidence is likely to be seriously undermined by sentences that allow perpetrators back into the sport almost immediately.”

Best had been disqualified from racing for four years in April after being found guilty of offences that “strike at the heart of racing”. However, that sentence was quashed and at a new disciplinary hearing he was handed a six-month suspension from training.

While Best cannot hold a licence or make entries during his suspension, he can continue to visit licensed racing yards, speak to licensed trainers and jockeys, watch horses train at home and attend the races as a spectator or an owner.

The penalty was dismissed as “limp” by Rowlands, who said: “I think it’s admirable that the case has been pursued by the BHA despite the many obstacles in the way, but if the sentence for corrupting the sport in such a manner is a suspension for six months that’s going to reinforce some bad impressions of the sport that some people have and that cannot be healthy for the betting environment.

“The problems [with the case] have been entirely legal with the mishandling of the initial prosecution and we’re left with what we feel is a rather limp sentence at the end of it. Due process has been followed; however, we’re surprised by the outcome, to say the least.”

Suspension, not disqualification 

He added: “A positive is that the BHA has been justified in pursuing this case as it resulted in a guilty verdict. It shows the BHA was serious in pursuing what it thought was corruption even though the outcome will not have pleased everybody and has left us disappointed.”

The BHA yesterday clarified Best’s punishment was a suspension and not the more serious disqualification.

Robin Mounsey, the BHA’s media manager, said: “At present, as far as we're concerned, the panel said his licence has been suspended. We’re expecting to receive confirmation of the penalty and reasons for the penalty from the panel shortly.”

Mounsey added there would be no further comment from the BHA over the penalty and issues relating to the use of Matthew Lohn until after the seven-day period for Jim Best to appeal had expired or after an appeal had been heard.

We believe confidence is likely to be seriously undermined by sentences that allow perpetrators back into the sport almost immediately

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