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17 December, 2007  
London Calling

After eight weeks of evidence Irish jockey Kieran Fallon is cleared of race fixing in Britain. Michael Hodgman QC from Tasmania could have called the finish much sooner

imageAt the Derby Day meeting held at Flemington last year, veteran Tasmanian Liberal MHA Michael Hodgman struck-up a conversation in the bar with a member of Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien’s staff about the upcoming court appearance of their star jockey, Kieren Fallon.

Hodgman, probably the longest serving racing committeeman in the world, was keen to know the details of the English race-fixing allegations against Fallon.

“Why don’t you ask him yourself?” said the Irishman and pointed to the man next to him.

Following a fascinating conversation, Hodgman diagnosed that the weak spot in the Crown case would most likely be the evidence of Ray Murrihy, the distinguished Australian racing steward.

imageWould that the racing authorities in Britain had listened to someone like Hodgman (pic).

Early this month after almost eight weeks of evidence, Mr Justice Forbes ruled that, primarily based upon the expert evidence, Fallon and his co-accused had no case to answer. The judge said:

“In my opinion, it is now clear that Mr Murrihy’s evidence was subject to a number of significant limitations and shortcomings which were not evident from his witness statements and his evidence-in-chief.”

Those limitations and shortcomings included an “extraordinary admission” that he was no expert when it came to British racing despite indicating as much in his witness statements.

Murrihy’s evidence was limited in all the circumstances and “very little, if any weight” could be attributed to it.

This wasn’t just an isolated case of convict-bashing by the British establishment. There are few people who are real experts in race reading here. The racecourses in England are nothing like those in Australia where all is flat and orderly.

At Goodwood racecourse for instance, the horses race up and down severe undulations and negotiate sharp turns around the rim of the Sussex Downs.

imageAt Epsom, where they hold the Derby, the track is shaped like a horse shoe. The horses must climb a hill as high as Nelson’s Column before charging down Tattenham Corner to the finish line.

It was clear that poor old Murrihy (pic) wasn’t sure about the track bias and the riding methods at some of the UK tracks.

The real tragedy is that when he was charged in July 2006, the quietly-spoken Fallon was banned from riding in Britain purely on the basis of the witness statements. The ban remained in place for nearly 18-months.

This cost the six-times champion jockey rides in a series of top-class English races like the Derby and the Oaks, which experience shows he has been in the habit of winning.

Betting on a horse to lose has traditionally been the privilege of bookmakers. But since the introduction of betting exchanges, which were brought into Tasmania a couple of years ago by the delightful Lennon government, punters can put money on a horse to lose, even after the race has started. The authorities claimed they were following the money trail.

Fallon, the police say, was working for a syndicate headed by Miles Rodgers who was also charged. But you wouldn’t want Fallon on your team. On one celebrated occasion, the jockey lost Rodgers £160,000 ($A371,000) when he won the 1974 Lockinge Stakes on Russian Rhythm.

imageWhat was even more extraordinary was that, when he was supposed to be losing, Fallon’s winning strike rate jumped from 19 percent to 29.4 percent.

Fallon (pic) is not out of the woods yet. He faces a long ban after allegedly testing positive to cocaine in France. He’s a colourful figure and in Australia would probably be a hero.

Apart from his genius in the saddle, Fallon has other qualities which endear him to some and drive others to drink.

He was once outed for six months for dragging another jockey from a horse at Beverley racecourse; he won a high-profile libel action against the now defunct Sporting Life newspaper which made serious allegations against his ride on a horse called Top Cees at Newmarket; and he was sensationally sacked by top trainer Henry Cecil after an alleged affair between the trainer’s wife Natalie and an unidentified jockey. Fallon strenuously denies any involvement.

Australian judges, particularly those in New South Wales, have been criticised in the past for mixing with the hoi-polloi at the track.

But at least lawyers who know their racing might be better bets to prevent miscarriages of justice like this one.

A lot of the more pompous Pommie commentators took the chance to stick the slipper into the “Australian steward” but it has now been revealed that the BBC’s top racing commentator was waiting in the wings at the trial to give evidence for the defence.

Jim McGrath is from Melbourne.

* * *

Pity poor David Leggatt, 55, who was locked in the loo of his outdoor bowling club in Aberdeen for four days.

Leggatt, the club’s wine convenor, was finally rescued when a cleaner arrived.

With great British stoicism, the retired teacher stayed alive by warming his feet in the hand basin. There’s no use grumbling; no-one listens.

It’s troubling enough that the cleaner only turns up every four days, but Leggatt’s friend, Bob Ewing, the club secretary, was hardly consoling:

“Nobody had been looking for David. A wife may have wondered where he was but he is not married.”