Dropping It Might Have Been The Best Course of Action…

"Did you do your Jim Best?"

"Did you do your Jim Best?"

So the British Horseracing Authority finally got their man, writes Tony Stafford. For the second time in 2016, trainer Jim Best has been found guilty of instructing his former employee Paul John to prevent two horses from winning and now faces a six-month suspension of his licence to train.

That outcome was greeted with near-disbelief in many quarters considering that the original ban was to have been of four years’ duration, but was quashed three months later after Best appealed it.

The main reason for the original ban’s overturning was the fact that the first hearing’s Chairman, Matthew Lohn, had previously been employed on a paid basis by the BHA on other legal matters. Also it was found that the reasons published by the first panel were insufficient for such a stringent penalty.

No doubt considerable costs had been incurred first time round and equally certainly, another chunk of the BHA’s resources were needed for the second instalment. In the way of such things, a similar outcome need not entail identical penalties and this was the case here.

Having had their evidence characterised as “insufficient” it was probably wishful thinking on the Authority’s part that relying on a single witness – Paul John – once again was unlikely to make their case any stronger.

Paul John was portrayed by Jim Best’s side as unreliable, citing his earlier frequent changes of employer. It was probably unhelpful also that there was the suggestion that a deal had been made between the BHA and John once he’d come forward to make his complaint against the trainer.

After the May decision to overturn the verdict on conflict of interest grounds I would have expected the BHA to admit they’d made a major error in the conducting of the case and to have accepted the fact. After all, every day there are senior policemen who are certain that murderers are walking around us either having gone undetected or more often having managed to convince juries of their innocence.

The other eventuality is the wrongful presentation of evidence by police or incorrect procedure before or at the time of arrest which of itself invalidates prosecution, much like the technical aspect of Best’s case.

There is not, in such cases, a clamour for a re-trial. The authorities have to accept it.

Stopping horses is rightly regarded as a cardinal sin in horse racing, as jockey Darren Egan found when given a 12-year ban for colluding in the stopping of two horses he rode for gambler Philip Langford.

Egan admitted what he did was wrong and cannot ride until 2027. Langford showed a profit of £53,000 on total stakes of £838,000 at the time his Betfair account was suspended.

That severity of sentence is clearly at variance with the eventual Best verdict for the identical number of stopping rides. The fact that the trainer did not attend on the day the verdict was handed down last month suggests he was unworried enough to fulfil another previous engagement.

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Within days, the news came that Best’s wife Suzy was applying to take over the licence for the period of her husband’s suspension, while his present assistant, brother Tom, could just as easily have stepped forward.

The main difference between somebody who has got away with a criminal act and someone under the jurisdiction of an Authority like the BHA is the question of control. Once Joe Bloggs either goes unpunished or undetected it is unlikely that he will be monitored for future breaches of the law, there are not the resources for that to be possible.

But a licensed trainer is under the spotlight for every runner that he sends to the racetrack. It is interesting that Jim Best’s horses have been in a relative lull over the past 18 months. Between season 2007/08, his fourth as a trainer of jumpers and 2014/15 he only once dropped below 15 wins in a season, with a high of 22 from 158 runs in 2008/09.

Last jump season brought a modest five wins from 89 runs, and so far this term from 34 runs, he has three wins on the board. He has sent out five winners from 87 runs, between 18 horses, on the Flat this season.

In the past fortnight, the Best stable has concentrated entirely on the Flat. Seven of his horses have appeared, one of them Slowfoot running twice. Despite the fact that three of the seven had won its previous race and another was second, the joint outcome was that none got nearer than ten lengths behind the winner. In all, there was a total of 84 horses in the eight events, and Best’s team finished ahead of only four of them.

Excepting Newcastle, his horses have turned up within the past 14 days at each of the other five all-weather circuits. Maria’s Choice was 10th of 12, beaten just over ten lengths at Southwell; Officer Drivel was last of eight, beaten 22l at Lingfield, Slowfoot ran twice, 34 lengths last at Kempton then 11 lengths last at Lingfield. Since coming to England this one-time German Group-race performer has slipped down the ratings from 98 (May) to 78 and could well be set for another drop tomorrow.

Alberta trailed home 88 lengths last at Kempton having won last time out; New Street (rated 65, from 84 in April), bought for 185,000gns by the stable’s leading owner Mr Jack Callaghan was 8th of 10, beaten 19 lengths at Chelmsford, at which track Bobby Benton, on his previous start in September a winner, was last, beaten more than 17 lengths. Briac, yet to show anything, was last of 12 at Wolverhampton, beaten 30 lengths.

Anyone studying the performances of the Jim Best horses during his most successful period between 2007/08 and two seasons ago, will find it easy to detect patterns. Often the money was down, a top jockey employed and the level of form was suddenly transformed and gambles routinely landed. It will be interesting to follow the fortunes of his latest group of horses considering that in the eight races reviewed, they have been beaten a combined 232 lengths, at an average of 29 lengths per race. Are you kidding me?

On a more positive note, the crowds thronged Ascot on Saturday for their pre-Christmas bash and if they didn’t spot many horses because of the fog, there is no doubt that this track once again excelled itself for entertainment outside the confines of the race.

I noted Dan Skelton’s daughter in full face-paint mode during the afternoon while Anthony Honeyball had an even younger sprog, eight and a half months old, in his care in the owners and trainers dining room. I thought the fact he was in charge suggested wife Rachael must be supervising their two runners at Haydock, but in fact she was leading up Regal Encore before the Lavazza Jolie Silver Cup Chase, and collected the best turned-out prize.

With five pulled ups in his previous six runs, he was sure to be an outsider, but he appeared like an apparition out of the murk to win with a flying finish under Barry Geraghty. Not a bad race to win for J P McManus!

- Tony Stafford

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