Protecting the Integrity & Reputation of Irish Horseracing

Yachvili Referral - Downpatrick 21st September 2011

 

Eddie O’Connell, James Lambe, Robert Martin, Brian Keown and Lucy Stanton referrals - Downpatrick 21st September 2011


The Referrals Committee, Judge Tony Hunt (in the chair), Peter Allen and Philip Caffrey met at the Turf Club, the Curragh, Co Kildare on Tuesday 3rd, Wednesday, 4th September 2013 and Monday 19th May 2014 to consider whether or not Eddie O’Connell, rider – Yachvili, James Lambe, trainer – Yachvili, Robert Martin, owner – Yachvili, Brian Keown and Lucy Stanton were in breach of any rules in connection with the running of Yachvili in the Kerry Foods European Breeders Fund Beginners Chase at Downpatrick on 21st September 2011 and a lay bet placed on Yachvili in the same race. The matter had been referred to the Referrals Committee by Denis Egan, Chief Executive of the Turf Club, following an investigation carried out by Christopher Gordon, Turf Club Head of Security, and Hugh Hynes, Betting Analyst.


The case was presented by the Louis Weston, Barrister at Law, instructed by Conal Boyce solicitor, Naas, Co. Kildare. Eddie O’Connell and James Lambe were represented by Frank Crean, Barrister, instructed by Andrew Coonan, Coonan Cawley solicitors, Naas Co Kildare.

 
The Committee was satisfied by evidence from Jon Dunn, an investigator with the British Horseracing Authority, Hugh Hynes, Turf Club Betting Analyst and Christopher Gordon, Turf Club Head of Security that Brian Keown and Lucy Stanton had been properly served with the relevant documents and were on notice of the holding of the hearing. Neither Brian Keown nor Lucy Stanton was in attendance at the hearing, and neither had made any response to previous service of documents or other contacts by the Turf Club. The Committee accepted that the Turf Club had taken all reasonable steps to serve relevant papers and give reasonable notice of the hearing.


The Committee also considered correspondence from solicitors representing Robert Martin, who was not in attendance and who had sought an adjournment on 1st August 2013 on the basis that he did not have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence. The Turf Club had refused the request on the basis that Mr Martin had originally been notified of the hearing date by letter dated 16th July and that he had signed to confirm receipt of the letter by registered post on 19th July which was nearly 7 weeks before the proposed hearing date. There was further correspondence from Mr Martin’s solicitors on 2nd August and they were invited by letter dated 6th August from the Turf Club to make a formal application for an adjournment to the Referrals Committee when they were sitting next on 20th August if they so wished but that the Turf Club would be opposing the application. No application was made by the solicitors and there was no further correspondence from them until 2nd September when they informed the Turf Club that they would not be in a position to attend as Mr. Martin had been given insufficient time to prepare for the hearing.


Having considered the evidence and correspondence in relation to Robert Martin, the Committee accepted that he was on notice of the hearing and noted that his legal representatives had not made an application for an adjournment despite being given the option to do so on 20th August 2013. The Committee rejected the assertion in the correspondence that Mr. Martin had insufficient time to prepare a defence, having regard to the fact the allegations against him arose from a small number of possible telephone calls on the morning of the race in question. The Committee considered that more than adequate notice had been provided to deal with factual matters of such limited scope. They accepted that there was no obligation on Robert Martin, Brian Keown and Lucy Stanton to be present and ruled that the hearing should proceed in their absence as they all had been given ample notice and opportunity to attend.


The Committee then considered an application for an adjournment from Frank Crean, on behalf of Eddie O’Connell and James Lambe, on the basis that his clients had been granted leave to bring a judicial review challenge to the Turf Club rules by the High Court. He said he accepted that they had been refused an injunction yesterday to prevent the hearing going ahead but that he still wished to make the application for an adjournment. He also submitted that the committee did not have jurisdiction in the matter as the alleged act took place outside the jurisdiction of the State and that in the absence of a mandate from the Oireachtas the matter could not be considered by the committee.


Having considered his request, the Committee rejected his application for an adjournment, stating that the Rules had been promulgated pursuant to an Act of the Oireachtas of 1994 that enjoyed a presumption of constitutionality until otherwise determined, and that they were satisfied they were validly convened pursuant to existing rules. It also rejected the jurisdictional point, as the parties present at the hearing had bound themselves by written agreement to be subject to these Rules of Racing, and that this effect of this contract was not limited by national borders. It also noted that the Referrals Committee had exercised jurisdiction under these Rules in relation to many racing matters occurring in Northern Ireland in the past, without objection to jurisdiction.


At the conclusion of the evidence, the Committee also heard a legal submission from Mr Crean and a reply from Louis Weston, for the Turf Club, as to the appropriate standard to be applied to the evidence in determining whether a breach of rule had occurred. Mr Weston submitted that the appropriate standard was a slightly higher standard than the “balance of probabilities” and referred to a standard which has been used before in similar Turf Club hearings which was that the committee needed to be “comfortably satisfied”. Mr Crean said the appropriate standard which should apply was the criminal standard which was “beyond reasonable doubt” as this was the standard used for hearings before professional disciplinary bodies. The committee noted the submissions for later consideration and decision.


The Committee then considered oral evidence from Russell Wallace, Integrity Team Leader – Betfair, Christopher Gordon, James Lambe and Eddie O’Connell via Skype from Australia. They also considered a written statement from Brendan Sheridan, Clerk of the Course at Downpatrick as well as transcripts of the interviews which took place with James Lambe, Eddie O’Connell, Robert Martin, Brian Keown and Lucy Stanton, audio recordings and transcripts of calls made by Lucy Stanton to Betfair both before and after the lay bet was placed, details of Brian Keown and Lucy Stanton’s previous betting transactions with Betfair and a written report from Christopher Gordon on the conduct of the investigation. They further considered film of the race at Downpatrick as well as film of a number of the horse’s previous runs.


In his evidence Russell Wallace confirmed that the information supplied by Betfair was a true and accurate record of Brian Keown and Lucy Stanton’s betting account and the audio recordings were also a true and accurate record of the telephone conversations which took place.


Christopher Gordon confirmed that the accuracy of the statement he submitted which set out what took place during the investigation.


Both Mr Crean and Mr Weston accepted the accuracy of the statement made by Brendan Sheridan without having to call Mr Sheridan to validate its contents. In the statement Brendan Sheridan said that “I was clerk of the course at Downpatrick on 21st September 2011. After the 5.35pm race I was approached by trainer, James Lambe in the weigh room. He was very angry about the ride his horse Yachvili had been given in the race and described it as the worst ride he had ever seen”.


In his evidence James Lambe confirmed the instructions given to Eddie O’Connell which were “drop-in, take your time and ride a race”. He said Yachvili had a certain level of ability but did not like being bullied and on occasions had downed tools when this occurred. He said he was satisfied with the instructions given to the rider.


Mr Lambe outlined details of a conversation he had with Robert Martin on the morning of the race. He said he hoped Yachvili would win but that he would definitely be placed. In relation to the charges levelled against him, James Lambe said he denied everything. He accepted that the transcript of his interview with Christopher Gordon and Hugh Hynes was accurate.


With regard to the ride given to Yachvili by Eddie O’Connell, he said that he should not have let the horse get detached and could not understand why he did not hit him three slaps and drive him up to join the rest of the field. However, on reflection he felt that perhaps the horse would have downed tools if the rider had been more aggressive.


In response to questioning from Mr Weston, Mr Lambe accepted that there was no evidence on the video of Eddie O’Connell “riding a race” or of pumping or hitting the horse. He said that he did not speak to Robert Martin that evening after the race and that Mr Martin’s only response to him when he subsequently informed him that there was an enquiry into irregular betting patterns was “who are they”. He said he never spoke to Robert Martin about the investigation but that he did speak to Eddie O’Connell. He confirmed that it was still his opinion that Eddie O’Connell should have used the stick on Yachvili in the race.


He said he was unaware of a relationship between Robert Martin and Eddie O’Connell other than the fact that Eddie O’Connell was originally sponsored by one of Robert Martin’s businesses when he started out. He confirmed that he would speak to Robert Martin before each race and that he had no concerns about Yachvili running in Downpatrick prior to the race with regard to the track or the distance. He said he was now aware that Eddie O’Connell had spoken to Robert Martin in advance of the race but in normal circumstances he would not expect a jockey to speak to an owner. He reiterated that he did not say anything to Robert Martin which would indicate that the horse would not be placed and neither did he give any instruction to Eddie O’Connell not use the whip. He concluded by saying he was not aware that Eddie O’Connell had made a report to the stewards after the race.


In his evidence Eddie O’Connell confirmed that he had received the necessary paperwork and that the interviews included with the papers were properly recorded. He said he had ridden Yachvili on 14 occasions and that he knew the horse well. He confirmed that he knew Robert Martin and rode the majority of his horses. He said that he was sponsored by Mr Martin at one stage. He said he spoke to Robert Martin once or twice a week to inform him how his horses were going and that Mr Martin phoned him on the morning of the race to ask him about Yachvili’s prospects in Downpatrick. Mr O’Connell said to him that the horse had a very good each way chance as it didn’t look a great race. He said that Robert Martin did not indicate he intended to place a bet.


With regard to the race itself, Eddie O’Connell confirmed the instructions given by James Lambe which were to drop in, take your time and ride the race. He described Yachvili as a “hold-up” horse and that the last time he was aggressive on the horse at Downpatrick on 18th December 2009 the horse pulled up. He said the whip works when Yachvili is going forward. He described what happened in the race and in particular the two fallers at the first fence which interfered with Yachvili. He said this definitely affected the horse as he lost all momentum and became detached. He said he didn’t use the whip during the race and that he tried to nudge Yachvili back into the race without success. He said he didn’t speak to Robert Martin after the race and that he did not know Brian Keown and Lucy Stanton. He concluded his evidence by denying all charges.


In response to questions from Mr Weston, Eddie O’Connell accepted that his obligations as a rider were to obtain the best possible placing. He said James Lambe was not overly critical of his ride after the race and he described his reaction as”nothing out of the ordinary”. He said that he spoke to Robert Martin after the race to explain what had happened and that Robert Martin didn’t give him any impression of anger or disappointment. He said that he had not spoken to him since the investigation commenced and that he did not ring him up to ask him about the betting on the race. He confirmed that the horse was in good form before the race and that he could not understand why anyone would want to lay the horse not be placed. He said he made a conscious decision after the incident at the first fence to “kid” the horse along rather than use the stick as the horse wasn’t travelling. When Mr Weston put it to Eddie O’Connell that the video doesn’t support his view that the horse wasn’t travelling he reiterated he was trying to kid him along. He referred to the fact that he changed hands and grabbed hold of the horse on a number of occasions. Mr O’Connell accepted that he had given the horse a hard ride in the past and that it did well. He also said that the race was not being used as a schooling run for a race in Sligo following week.


In response to a query from the chairman with regard to the time a particular phone call was made on the morning of the race, Mr Crean said that his clients would be happy to hand over telephone records to confirm the time as soon as they became available provided the delay did not create a procedural difficulties. The Committee reserved its decision.


The Committee subsequently considered the matter and decided as follows:-


As to the standard of proof to be applied deciding whether any allegation was substantiated by evidence, the Committee decided once again that the standard applicable to fact finding (either directly or by inference) in this enquiry was that of the “balance of probabilities”, as explained and applied in this jurisdiction by the Supreme Court (in Georgeopoulus v Beaumont Hospital Health Board, 1997) as follows:-


“The standard of proving a case beyond reasonable doubt is confined to criminal trials and has no application in proceedings of a civil nature. It is true that the complaints against the plaintiff involved charges of great seriousness and with serious implications for the plaintiff’s reputation. This does not, however, require that the facts upon which the allegations are based should be established beyond all reasonable doubt. They can be dealt with on “the balance of probabilities” bearing in mind that the degree of probability required should always be proportionate to the nature and gravity of the issue to be investigated. . . . I am satisfied that in inquiries, such as that conducted in this case, the standard of proof to be applied is not that required in a criminal case but is that applicable to all proceedings of a civil nature, namely, “the balance of probabilities” a standard which takes into account the nature and gravity of the issue to be investigated and decided. “


The Committee decided to approach the issues arising on the evidence in the following sequence:-


The Betfair activity by Mr Keown and Ms Stanton in relation to Yachvili and the Downpatrick race on the day thereof, together with the nature and extent of the previous Betfair activity on their relevant accounts,


Communications between the owner of Yachvili (Mr Martin) and Mr Keown on the day of the race,


Communications between the “connections” of Yachvili (Mr Martin owner, Mr Lambe trainer and Mr O’Connell jockey), both on the day of the race and generally,


The actions and reactions of the connections concerning the running and riding of Yachvili at Downpatrick,


The relationship between facts found under each heading, and whether findings of fact or inferences drawn from such findings tended to prove or disprove assertions made by the parties who contributed to the enquiry, whether by prior statements volunteered to Turf Club investigators or by direct evidence to the Committee, or both,


Whether the combination of facts found or inferences drawn by the Committee were sufficient to justify adverse findings against the parties as suggested by the Turf Club in the “Topics for Inquiry” presented by the Turf Club against each named individual for the purpose of this referral.

The Betfair activity.


The bet on Yachvili that gave cause for concern on the part of Betfair was placed by Ms Stanton with them through an account held by her on the day of the race, having been funded by a deposit of £10,000 to this account at 12.11. It was clear that this deposit was made specifically to fund an intended bet, as her previous account activity did not disclose available funds, or previous wagering of this magnitude. It also followed from the account activity and history that the intended object of the bet to follow this deposit was Yachvili, as no other bet was placed on her account on that day.


The evidence against Ms Stanton relating to the placing of the bet and the attendant circumstances is found in her statement to Chris Gordon and Hugh Hynes recorded and made on the 9th of May 2012 and in her recorded conversations with Betfair in 2011 referred to below.


The Committee considered that the recordings of Ms Stanton’s telephone conversations with Betfair operatives in connection with the placing of the intended bet displayed an extraordinary determination to wager as much money as was available to her against the event of Yachvili being placed at Downpatrick. It was also noted that this determination was matched by a clear lack of understanding of the mechanics of lay betting. Having received guidance from a Betfair operative by phone as to how to place this lay bet, she risked £10,459 to win £2,910 in the place market on Yachvili, in three instalments at 14.37, 14.46 and 17.06 respectively.


The clear inference from this conduct was that Ms Stanton was being funded and instructed by another in relation to this bet. The fact that her only previous bet on Irish racing on her Betfair account was a lay bet of £45 to win £5 demonstrates the unusual nature of the bet from her point of view, as does the fact that the amount risked by her was exceeded by a factor of more than 100 any previous risk taken on this account. The amount so wagered also constituted over 90% of lay bets placed and matched on Betfair on Yachvili in this race, and over 76% of their total market on this runner. These facts were established from the details contained in the records supplied by Betfair.


The only reasonable inference from Ms Stanton’s behaviour is that she was in possession of an extraordinary degree of certainty that Yachvili would not be placed in the Downpatrick race. The depth of this confidence was also illustrated by the proportion of the Betfair markets on Yachvili represented by the bet, suggesting that no other Betfair customer shared such a strong sentiment that Yachvili would not be placed. The risk assumed was also notably out of proportion to any previous risks assumed on this account, or that of Mr Keown.


The Committee was satisfied that this degree of certainty was not derived from any independent assessment by her of Yachvili’s prospects, or from her general knowledge of Irish racing or betting, but emanated from another party, who instructed and funded her in relation to that bet. The further conclusion that Ms Stanton knew that there was something irregular and suspicious about this bet is supported by her improbable and untruthful responses to Betfair operatives in conversations after payment of the winnings was refused.


She then asserted to Betfair that she only intended to bet £1,000, and that the bet of £10,000 was as a result of the buttons on her keyboard sticking. However, her actions required that she key in that specific sum when depositing to her account, and thereafter that she key in the total amount bet in three separate instalments, rendering it highly improbable that she would not have observed at some point in time that she was betting well in excess of her stated limit. It was also flatly contradicted by the repeated mention of the sum of £10,000 in various contexts in her recorded conversations with Betfair on the day of the race.


These conversations made it clear that, despite limitations in her understanding of betting substance and procedure, she clearly understood that she had raised the limit on her account to £10,000, and further understood that that was the amount to be risked against Yachvili. Her further explanation that she bet a disproportionately large sum on a horse which stuck out to her because she “knew somebody who lived in Yachvili” (a non-existent place), was noted and dismissed without the necessity for further comment. (The evidence was that the gelding was named after a French rugby player).


Accordingly, it was necessary to look beyond Ms Stanton for the true rationale for this bet. The Committee was satisfied by the evidence that Mr Keown was the party responsible for imparting information, instructions and funds to Ms Stanton in relation to the bet in question. The evidence against Mr Keown in relation to this fact is found in his statement to Chris Gordon and Hugh Hynes recorded and made on 26 March 2012, where he accepted asking Ms Stanton to put on the bet, as he could not put it on himself, due to a previous refusal of his credit card by Betfair, also indicating that Ms Stanton knew very little about horse racing.


However, his version differed considerably from Ms Stanton’s, in that he asserted that he instructed her to risk only £3,000. He expressed himself to have been surprised on the next day when she informed him that she had staked £10,000, resulting in winnings of approximately £3,000. He also asserted that this was done by Ms Stanton, but not on his PC, while he was “someplace else”. He was unable to explain why Ms Stanton had provided patently false explanations to Betfair about her motivation for the bets. His assertion that he was at a physical remove from Ms Stanton during the activities of the day was clearly undermined by the computer records provided by Betfair. These details suggested that his account was accessed at various times on that day from the same IP address and computer and windows session used to access Ms Stanton’s account on the same day.


He stated that Mr Martin had told him that “I have a horse running, I didn’t expect it to do good.” and also that “he didn’t expect it to win, he said there was something about the track or something.” He asserted that he knew nothing further about the jockey or the course in question before proceeding to bet. He also stated that he used a “company” credit card to fund the bet because there was some previous difficulty with Betfair when using his own card. Mr Martin stated that he said to Mr Keown that he “had one running today but I don’t think he’ll do.” In this regard, Mr Martin explained to investigators that Mr Keown’s subsequent bet on his animal was being based on form study by Mr Keown, and denied that the lay bet was placed on his behalf.


Therefore, the Committee concluded that Mr Keown was likewise possessed of an extraordinary degree of certainty that Yachvili would not be placed in the Downpatrick race. The basis for this conclusion is also found in the evidence of his previous betting activity in the relevant Betfair records.


Firstly, these records do not support Mr Keown’s assertion that his personal credit card had previously been declined by them. Secondly, this bet was also out of all proportion to the size of any previous bet by him with Betfair (the largest previous potential profit or loss figure being £105.58), and was the first by him on any race in Ireland. The Committee concluded that the untrue assertion by Mr Keown about the previous refusal of his credit card pointed to his using Ms Stanton for the bet for a different and more obvious reason, namely to conceal his involvement in a relatively large bet that he knew to be likely to attract attention if viewed in conjunction with his account history.


Unfortunately from his standpoint, Ms Stanton also attracted attention in her dealings with Betfair, which led to an investigation of her account. When her computer records were examined closely after the bet attracted attention from Betfair, considerable forensic links between the accounts of Ms Stanton and Mr Keown became visible. It was only then that possible involvement by Mr Keown in these events also became an issue for investigation by Betfair.


These facts supported an inevitable conclusion that Mr Keown was prepared to assume an unprecedented risk by the placing of this bet, and that this risk was disproportionate to any risk disclosed by his previous betting patterns. The absence of previous betting on Irish racing hardly supported Mr Martin’s assertion that Mr Keown based a bet on a beginner’s chase at Downpatrick on a study of the form, as opposed to a direct conversation with the owner of the gelding.


The Committee did not accept the assertion made by Mr Keown in his statement that Ms Stanton had made a mistake in taking £10,000 from his credit card, placing it in her Betfair account, and staking the entire sum in three instalments against Yachvili being placed at Downpatrick. The improbability and inconsistency of the assertions made by both Mr Keown and Ms Stanton caused the Committee to reject their statements save where independently verified, and to draw the inference that their serial untruths and inaccuracies were offered to investigators to wilfully obscure the suspicious and underhand nature of their joint activities.


The Betfair records also supported the highly probable conclusion that Mr Keown did not derive his apparent degree of certainty about the outcome of a large bet on a beginner’s chase at Downpatrick from any independent form-based assessment by him of the likelihood that Yachvili would not be placed in such a race.


In this respect, the Committee was in agreement with the opinion of his trainer (referred to below) that the general level of Yachvili’s previous form, when taken together with that of the other participants in the race, was capable of supporting a general hope that it would be able to achieve at least a place finish in this race.


Communications between Mr Martin and Mr Keown


Therefore, it was necessary to examine the evidence for an alternative explanation for the preparedness of Mr Keown to assume such an unprecedented and unusual risk. The Committee was satisfied that the only reasonable explanation for Mr Keown’s behaviour emanated from a telephone conversation between Mr Keown and Mr Martin, the owner of the gelding, on the morning of the race. Each of the protagonists confirmed the fact of their participation of each in such a conversation in their respective statements to investigators. Both agreed that they had a course of business dealings, and that the fact that Mr Martin had a horse running was a subject of discussion during this conversation, which took place on the morning of the race, and dealt primarily with matters of mutual business interest. Both also appeared to concede to some extent that there had been adverse sentiment expressed by Mr Martin regarding the prospects of success for Yachvili in the race.


Having regard to the unusual actions subsequently taken by or on behalf of Mr Keown in relation to the bet that Yachvili would be unplaced in the race that evening, the Committee was clearly satisfied that Mr Martin and Mr Keown had not given investigators an accurate account of their discussion about the prospects of Yachvili. The sole inference to be drawn from the combination of recent communication and the following substantial lay bet is that Mr Martin imparted to Mr Keown a far higher degree of certainty that the animal would not be placed than either were prepared to admit in their statements.


Accordingly, although the Committee accepted on the basis of these statements that Yachvili was discussed by Mr Martin and Mr Keown, it did not accept that either statement was an accurate account of the contents of that conversation, when weighed against the actions taken by or on behalf of Mr Keown shortly thereafter. The Committee did not accept that relatively anodyne remarks by Mr Martin could possibly have justified the almost immediate response by Mr Keown in arranging to fund and place a comparatively large bet against the gelding, concealed behind the identity of another.


The Committee concluded that action of this type by Mr Keown could only have been justified by a far stronger assurance by Mr Martin as to the lack of place prospects for his animal in this race. It was also noted that a large lay bet was entirely inconsistent with the broadly positive information that the jockey and trainer testified that they imparted to Mr Martin prior to the race.


On the basis that it was satisfied that this telephone discussion formed the real basis for Mr Keown’s bet on Yachvili, the Committee then examined whether it was probable that Mr Martin was solely responsible for communicating to Mr Keown a strong view that his animal would not be placed, or whether the trainer or jockey had contributed to the certainty which Mr Martin had necessarily imparted to Mr Keown.


The Committee accepted that it would not be unusual for an owner to express prospects of success to an acquaintance on the day of the race, based on his own evaluation of the form of the horse and on recent stable information from the stable. The Committee did not accept that Yachvili’s form of itself would justify concluding as a matter of near certainty that the horse would be unplaced on in this particular race.


Communications between owner, trainer and jockey.


In the record of interview produced in evidence, Mr Martin stated that he thought that he spoke to Mr O’Connell at about 12 o’clock on that day. He initially seemed to suggest that Mr O’Connell had initiated the call, but then stated that he could not remember. Mr O’Connell stated in evidence that he did not remember the time of that conversation. He stated that Mr Martin rang him, as was the habit in their case. In his interview with Turf Club investigators on 28 October 2011, Mr O’Connell stated that he was “chatting to (Mr Martin) that morning”.


The Committee concluded that on the basis of this evidence that such a conversation did take place. Both parties differed as to whether this call had originated from Mr Martin and as to whether it took place in the earlier in the morning or at around 12 noon. It also appeared from the evidence that such chats occurred reasonably regularly between Mr Martin and Mr O’Connell. It appeared that Mr Martin had sponsored Mr O’Connell earlier in his career and at this time Mr O’Connell rode his horses regularly. This explained the somewhat unusual fact that owner and jockey had a conversation about the race on the day thereof, other than in person at the racecourse. Both confirmed discussing the race. Mr O’Connell said that he told Mr Martin requested his opinion and Mr O’Connell informed him that the horse had “a very good each way chance” as it was “not a great race”. Mr Martin confirmed that he asked Mr O’Connell what he thought and that he said that he would “try and get him into it and do whatever he could with him”.


On either version, this would have been a proper and reasonable conversation for the owner and jockey to have had regarding the prospects of Yachvili, based on the form. The Turf Club accepted the fact of this communication, but not the content thereof, the contention being that such an innocuous conversation was incapable of supporting the confidence possessed by Mr Keown in his betting activity. In effect, the Committee was invited to find that these accounts of the content of the conversation were untrue, to be displaced by inferences to be drawn from other facts which the Committee were invited to find.


As to communications between owner and trainer, in his statement Mr Martin said that he spoke to Mr Lambe on the day of the race, and that he got very little information from him, which he interpreted from “the vibes” as meaning that the horse was not going to run well. Mr Lambe told the investigators that he informed Mr Martin before the race that if the horse jumped around he had a good each way chance, and that he did not put Mr Martin off having a bet. In evidence, he stated that he told Mr Martin that he was hopeful of a win and thought he would be placed. He stated that he spoke to nobody else on the subject and he would not go into great detail on such matters. He was not asked for and expressed no opinion on betting. He denied speaking to Mr Martin after the race, as he did not want to speak to him when he was “pissed off”.


Similarly, the Turf Club in effect invited the Committee to discount Mr Lambe’s version of these events, making the case that both Mr O’Connell and Mr Lambe in fact passed negative information to Mr Martin for lay bets to be placed on the outcome of the race.


The findings of fact and drawings of inferences suggested by and on behalf of the Turf Club in relation to these communications implied serious breaches of the applicable rules by the owner, trainer and jockey, with the attendant possibility of the imposition of significant penalties and disqualifications. Applying the law as set out above, the nature and gravity of such suggestions required the Committee to be satisfied to a high degree of probability before discounting the evidence of the connections, and finding facts or drawing inferences in support of such adverse conclusions.

Telephone records


Following a request made by the Committee in the course of the hearing, the Committee received redacted mobile phone records relating to phones used by Mr O’Connell and Mr Lambe. The Committee considered these records and invited written submissions from the parties on this issue. These records illustrated called numbers, and the time and duration of calls made on the number in question, but did not cast any light on the origin or timing of calls inbound to the number in question.


Accordingly, the Committee accepted that Mr O’Connell made three outgoing calls to Mr Martin on that day, at 13.34, 13.37 and 18.41 (the latter tending to confirm Mr O’Connell’s evidence that he discussed the race with Mr Martin that evening). The records had no relevance either way to any phone call between Mr O’Connell and Mr Martin originating from Mr. Martin. Both Mr O’Connell’s statement and evidence confirmed that it was Mr Martin who initiated calls to Mr O’Connell pertaining to his horses. The only conclusion that can be drawn from the records and the evidence is that the 13.34 call from Mr O’Connell to Mr Martin was therefore unlikely to have been the first call between them on the day. The written submissions on behalf of Mr O’Connell suggest that this has caused Mr O’Connell to belatedly accept that the conversation about Yachvili now took place at that time, after Ms Stanton first attempted to contact Betfair.


Regrettably, the submissions did not address any reason for this change from Mr O’Connell’s evidence and previous statement, both of which suggested unequivocally that this conversation was initiated by Mr Martin, as might be expected from the general evidence that Mr Martin regularly called him to speak about his horses, nor do they explain why Mr O’Connell twice gave an identical account on this important matter without apparently consulting the relevant phone records. The records did not preclude a finding that a conversation initiated by Mr Martin in the usual manner took place at an earlier time, whether received on this or on Mr O’Connell’s other phone.


The records relating to Mr Lambe undermined the accuracy of his evidence to the Committee as to when he next spoke to Mr Martin after the race, as there was a phone call between them on the evening of the race, as opposed to a discussion at Sligo on the following week. Mr Martin stated that he had no recollection of speaking to Mr Lambe after the race. In ordinary circumstances, there would be nothing unusual or irregular in an owner speaking to a trainer on the evening of a race. Mr Lambe stated incorrectly in evidence that he did not do so on this evening for the reason stated above. Unfortunately, there is now no account available from either trainer or owner as to the nature or contents of this conversation, particularly as to whether Mr Lambe communicated his post-race unhappiness with the jockey to the owner, or if he had by then developed a more nuanced or equivocal attitude in relation to the ride. In the circumstances, it was somewhat surprising that neither party had a recollection of this conversation, given the noteworthy events of the day.


Downpatrick and the aftermath


Yachvili was hampered by a faller at the first fence. He trailed the field thereafter, and eventually pulled up. Mr O’Connell was not seen to make any significant effort to galvanise the animal after the incident at the first fence. The evidence of the trainer and jockey on these matters is set out above. On his return, the jockey reported to the stewards that “….his mount had made a bad mistake at the first fence and lost interest thereafter”. This was not a particularly accurate account of the incident, as Yachvili had not made a mistake there, but given that the animal had clearly been involved in an incident at the first fence, was presumably intended to convey to the stewards an explanation that the subsequent lack of effort by Mr O’Connell was justified by the effects of that incident.


In the absence of any further information being available to the stewards on the day, it is not surprising that no further action or inquiry was taken by them on the basis of the information to hand in the short time available between races, there being no reason to assume that the performance of the horse or jockey as affected by anything except that which was visible by and reported to them. The Committee had no doubt that had the stewards been alerted to the information available to Betfair, the running and riding of Yachvili would have been subject to closer scrutiny and enquiry on the day. The Committee considered that the stewards were hampered in the discharge of their duties by the regrettable failure of Betfair to communicate to the Turf Club or the stewards the integrity concerns that had been in the possession of Betfair for a number of hours before the off time of the race.


A very significant event occurred in the immediate aftermath of the race. The Clerk of the Course was approached by Mr Lambe in the weigh room. Mr Lambe appeared to be very angry about the ride Yachvili had been given in the race and described it as the worst ride he had ever seen. In evidence, Mr Lambe confirmed that he was either angry or frustrated after the race, and had asked Mr O’Connell “why the fxxx didn’t you hit him two thumps”. It might have been better had this incident been reported to the stewards, but the Committee felt that given the incident at the first fence and the post race report, this in itself would have been unlikely to have precipitated a running and riding inquiry of any substance.


The evidence as to Mr Lambe’s satisfaction with the ride subsequent to the immediate aftermath was considerably more ambiguous, amounting to a suggestion that his initial attitude to the ride had subsequently softened, on the basis that driving the horse up and/or using the whip might have resulted in the horse sulking or downing tools. Mr Lambe stated that he was not aware that Mr O’Connell had made a post-race report to the stewards.


Findings of fact


Based on the foregoing, the Committee was completely satisfied that:-


Mr Keown made a rational decision to risk a comparatively large amount of money on the event that Yachvili would finish unplaced in the Downpatrick race,


Mr Keown intended to wager the amount of £10,000 and not any lesser amount, and did so using Ms Stanton to cover the unusual and extensive departure that this bet represented, having regard to his previous activity with Betfair,


Mr Keown selected Ms Stanton to place the bet for him, not because of any credit card difficulties on his Betfair account, but because her account activity with Betfair was less extensive than his, and therefore a large bet was less likely to attract attention than if placed on his account, which had a larger number of very modest bets,


Ms Stanton was not competent for the selected purpose, by reason of her lack of betting knowledge and want of discretion, which subsequently drew attention to her transactions and caused payment of the winnings to be refused.


Her actions also caused the computer activity to be analysed, exposing the involvement of Mr Keown, and subsequently the connection to Mr Martin. She demonstrated a strong sense of both greed and certainty in her attempts to place the £10,000 lay bet with Betfair,


Ms Stanton at all times acted at the direction of and on behalf of Mr Keown, and played no independent part in these events,


The betting decision made by Mr Keown was not informed by whim, happenstance, previous betting activity or an intimate knowledge of Irish NH form, but by a conversation held with his business acquaintance Mr Martin on the morning of the race,


The certainty of Yachvili being unplaced represented by the relative size of the bet was not apparently shared by any other Betfair customers,


The demonstrable untruths proffered by Ms Stanton and Mr Keown in their respective accounts to investigators were indicative of a desire to obscure activity that they knew to be suspicious, being based on “insider” information,


Mr Martin imparted information in the call with Mr Keown as to the likelihood of Yachvili being unplaced that afternoon, the nature of which was clearly evidenced by the sense of certainty and desire graphically displayed by Mr Keown’s agent Ms Stanton in her recorded dealings with Betfair,


Mr Martin was not solely responsible for formation of this view of the prospects of success or otherwise for his gelding that afternoon, but the definitive position evidenced by the subsequent activity of Mr Keown and Ms Stanton emanated from and/or was confirmed by sources closer to and having responsibility for, and knowledge of the gelding,


It would not have been possible for Mr Martin to have advised or encouraged Mr Keown to behave as he did in relation to Mr Martin’s gelding without substantial assurance or comfort that a large lay wager would be a safe proposition for Mr Keown,


Either or both Mr O’Connell and Mr Lambe must inevitably have provided such assurance or comfort to Mr Martin on the day of the race prior to his conversation with Mr Keown, in order to justify the actions subsequently taken by or on behalf of Mr Keown,


The various accounts given by both Mr Lambe and Mr O’Connell of pre-race conversations with Mr Martin would not justify in any respect the unprecedented course of action pursued by or on behalf of Mr Keown,


It was highly probable that having regard the betting pattern evidence and the evidence relating to communications between the various parties, one or other or both of those accounts was not truthful, and contrary to those accounts, some form of assurance or certainty that Yachvili would not finish placed emanated from either or both,


It was highly probable that Mr. O’Connell had assured Mr Martin in a conversation initiated by Mr Martin at around midday on the day of the race that a lay bet of the type subsequently placed would be likely to succeed, and that Mr O’Connell would take whatever steps were necessary to contribute to that end,


The later calls between Mr O’Connell and Mr Martin did not affect this conclusion either way, in that they were outgoing from Mr O’Connell’s phone and therefore more likely to be pursuant to an incoming call initiated by Mr Martin of the type described in evidence as typical between the two, and as having occurred that morning,


Mr O’Connell took advantage of the situation presented by the incident at the first fence by subsequently failing to take all reasonable and necessary steps to attempt to put the gelding back into the race over the remaining trip, which was almost all of the race distance of 2m 7f,


The lack of substantial or apparent effort by Mr O’Connell was confirmed by the recording of the race and the immediate reactions of the trainer of the animal as communicated by him to both Mr O’Connell and the Clerk of the Course,


This lack of effort on the gelding was consistent with ensuring that a lay bet placed with the assistance of Mr Martin would be successful, and was inconsistent with his duty to see that he took all necessary and permissible measures to get his mount back into the race after the early incident,


It was therefore not possible to accept to any degree his evidence as it pertained to the content of his conversations with Mr Martin,


Mr Lambe was not party to such arrangements with Mr Martin, as having carefully considered Mr Lambe’s demeanour and personality when giving evidence, his instant and angry reaction to Mr O’Connell’s ride as observed and heard by the Clerk of the Course, and also to Mr O’Connell post race was genuine, and not contrived by him to cover any involvement on his part in shortcomings in the running and riding of the horse,


The probability was that Mr Lambe was not involved in irregular arrangements relating to the running and riding of Yachvili, and his initial reactions supported the inference that there was something amiss with the riding of the animal,


Mr Lambe’s subsequent evidence as to his partial satisfaction with the ride given by Mr O’Connell and on other post race matters was highly inaccurate, and appeared to be a calculated attempt to dilute his clearly expressed post-race opinions, thereby raising the issue as to whether he had attempted to mislead the inquiry into the topics under consideration.


Having considered the evidence the Committee found as follows with their decision being notified to the parties concerned on 13th February 2014.

 

Conclusions based on the findings of fact made and inferences drawn by the Committee. 

Eddie O’Connell was in breach of the following rules:-


273(vi) by agreeing with Mr Martin on the day of the race to ensure by his riding that Yachvili would not run on its merits or obtain the best possible place in the race, in order to ensure that a lay bet placed against it by an acquaintance of Mr Martin would be successful, thereby conspiring to prevent Yachvili from running to its maximum ability,


273(viii), by thereby engaging in a corrupt or fraudulent practice in relation to racing in Ireland,


212(a)(1) by actually failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race in question to ensure that Yachvili was given a full opportunity to win or obtain the best possible place.


James Lambe:-


Mr Lambe was not found to be in breach of any of the Rules mentioned in the “Topics of Inquiry” presented by the Turf Club. However, the Committee was dissatisfied with the accuracy and truthfulness of both the statements made by him to Turf Club investigators and the oral evidence to the Committee, particularly on the issue of his satisfaction or otherwise with the ride of Mr O’Connell, which contrasted radically with his immediate and spontaneous reactions after the race. The Committee wished to hear further evidence and/or submissions as to whether Mr Lambe’s conduct in the course of the inquiry and hearing merited separate adverse findings or sanctions.


Robert Martin was in breach of the following Rules:-


273(vi) by agreeing with Mr O’Connell on the day of the race to ensure that Yachvili would be ridden such that it would not run on its merits or obtain the best possible place in the race, in order to ensure that a lay bet placed against it by an acquaintance of Mr Martin would be successful, thereby conspiring to prevent Yachvili from running to its maximum ability,


273(viii), by thereby engaging in a corrupt or fraudulent practice in relation to racing in Ireland.


Brian Keown was in breach of the following rules:-


273(viii) by using information supplied by Mr Martin to the effect that Yachvili would not be placed in the Downpatrick race to place a substantial lay bet against the gelding, thereby jointly engaging with Mr Martin in a corrupt or fraudulent practice in relation to racing in Ireland,


273(xiv)7 by agreeing with or obtaining from Mr Martin knowledge of an intended breach of Rule 212(a) by Mr O’Connell in the Downpatrick race and by using that information to lay Yachvili to lose in that race with Betfair.


Lucy Stanton was in breach of the following rules:-


273(ix) by using information supplied by Mr Martin to Mr Keown to the effect that Yachvili would not be placed in the Downpatrick race to place a substantial lay bet against the gelding on behalf of Mr Keown, thereby aiding Mr Martin and/or Mr Keown to engage in a corrupt or fraudulent practice in relation to racing in Ireland,


273(xiv)7 by agreeing with or obtaining from Mr Keown knowledge of an intended breach of Rule 212(a) by Mr O’Connell in the Downpatrick race and by using that information to lay Yachvili to lose in that race with Betfair.


The Committee re-convened on Monday 19th May 2014 to consider the outstanding issues arising from the hearings on 3rd and 4th September 2013 and their decision on 13th February 2014 including the imposition of penalties where appropriate.


James Lambe
The Committee considered a number of submissions from Frank Crean in relation to its ability to impose sanctions on Mr. Lambe in view of the fact that he was not found in breach of any of the Rules listed in the topics of enquiry. He submitted that the committee did not have jurisdiction in the matter and that his client was entitled to a notice of charge in the event that further charges were to be brought. He said that the Turf Club did not make a case that his evidence was incomplete or misleading. He submitted that James Lambe did not see the entirety of the race and that his initial comments were based on what he observed on the day. He also said that it was Mr. Lambe that brought these comments to the attention of the Turf Club.


In relation to costs he submitted that Mr. Lambe should not have to meet any costs as he was acquitted.


In response, Louis Weston submitted that if Mr. Lambe hadn’t changed his story that he would have been wholly supportive of the Turf Club case and that it was his change of position that brought him before the committee.


Having considered the evidence the Committee accepted that it could not deal with any further possible Rule breaches arising from the evidence given by Mr. Lambe and that it was up to the Turf Club to decide what further charges, if any, should be brought against him in relation to his evidence or otherwise, and that if such charges were brought it was more appropriate that they be dealt with by another committee. The Committee made no order for costs in relation to the inquiry concerning Mr. Lambe.


Eddie O’Connell


The Committee considered submissions from Louis Weston and Frank Crean in respect of the Rules breached by Eddie O’Connell as outlined above.


In his submission Louis Weston said that there was no more serious offence than this and the case will set down a marker as to how the sport sees this type of activity. He said the purpose of any sanction is not punitive. Rather, the purpose is to protect the integrity of Racing, to protect public confidence in the regulation of Racing, to prevent participation in Racing of a corrupt participant and to deter other persons from engaging in corruption.


The sanction imposed should be proportionate to the extent of the breaches of the Rules.


In his submission, Frank Crean referred to Eddie O’Connell’s personal circumstances and his previous good character. He said that he accepts what was found reflected matters of some gravity. He referred to Mr. O’Connell’s constitutional right to earn a living and said that any sanction imposed must be proportionate. He said his client will find it difficult to pay the costs and that part of the costs should be borne by others.


Having considered the evidence, the Committee said that in imposing penalty they must bear in mind the findings of serious misconduct and that there were serious breaches of obligations and duties under the Rules. They stated that a sanction of disqualification from holding a licence must follow. On the other side Eddie O’Connell’s previous good character and personal circumstances had to be taken into account, as had the fact that the direct or indirect gain likely to have accrued to Mr O’Connell from the facts found was limited. However, those choosing to pursue the occupation of a jockey must do so within the Rules. The obligation of the committee was to ensure that the integrity and the good name of racing were preserved. Balancing the upholding of these principles against the scale of wrongdoing found by them, and bearing in mind the mitigating factors applicable, they disqualified Mr O’Connell from holding a licence for a period of 4 years. They also ordered that he pay a contribution of €10,000 towards Turf Club costs.


Robert Martin


The Committee noted that Mr Martin did not contest the charges nor appear at either of the hearings even though he had been notified in advance of the dates. In view of the fact that he was the owner of Yachvili, it was the Committee’s view that he was the architect of the scheme disclosed by the evidence and was more culpable than Mr O’Connell. As racing is not his main occupation, a penalty similar to that imposed on Mr O’Connell was not appropriate. In his capacity as an owner Robert Martin agreed to be bound by the Rules of Racing, and whilst he cooperated up to a point with the investigation, he did not present himself at the hearings to explain his version of these events. In respect of the Rule breaches found the Committee disqualified him for a period of 10 years and ordered that he pay a contribution of €10,000 towards Turf Club costs.


Brian Keown


The Committee noted that Brian Keown did not contest the charges nor appear at either of the hearings even though he had been notified in advance of the dates. They found that he was highly culpable in relation to what occurred. However by virtue of the fact he wasn’t the owner of the horse he couldn’t have been the originator of the scheme but was described as an “enthusiastic participant”. They found that he had instructed Ms. Stanton and used her as a front for the betting activities. Bearing in mind the distinction between acting as the owner and as an acquaintance of the owner, he was disqualified for 8 years in respect of the Rule breaches found.


Lucy Stanton


The Committee noted that Lucy Stanton did not contest the charges nor appear at either of the hearings even though she had been notified in advance of the dates. The Committee found that Ms. Stanton played a lesser part in these events and was in effect used as a front for the betting activities. As such she was disqualified for a period of 4 years in respect of the Rule breaches found.


No order for costs was made against Mr. Keown or Ms. Stanton.

 

For further information, please contact: -
Denis Egan, Chief Executive, Turf Club, The Curragh, Co. Kildare.
Ph: 045-445600

Date: 22nd May 2014


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