Last week it emerged that Welsh trainer David Evans had been fined £3,000 for backing one of his horses, Black Dave, at Wolverhampton in 2015. Perfectly legal, you might think, and most of the time you’d be right, except that Evans hadn’t yet announced that his other horse in the race, Tango Sky, was to be a non-runner.
There are so many questions about this case that it is hard to know where to start, but the first could be why it has taken almost three years to be heard. The BHA’s explanation that resources were stretched due to staff departing really isn’t good enough for a body which is “responsible for the governance, administration and regulation of horseracing.”
It is also baffling that Evans should think that his actions were just “nicking a bit of value” from the bookies. It smacks of deceit, amplified when he then spent an hour on the phone to various owners encouraging them to also back Black Dave.
The fact that Black Dave could only finish fourth, and that the delay almost certainly increased any Rule 4 deduction from his potential winnings after the odds tumbling from 7/2 into 6/4 favourite, may highlight his hazy grasp of reality but in no way mitigates his actions.
The next question is why was the fine was so lenient (which Evans himself recognises)? He had hoped to win £24,000 from his withholding of information and the fine of only one eighth that amount offers no deterrent effect and instead almost encourages future attempts. Trainers are severely punished if one of their horses is deemed a non-trier, but you can’t try at all if you are not there.
Let me make this clear: I am not questioning Tango Sky’s withdrawal which was under a vet’s certificate. However, despite Rule 4 being invoked, it is very possible that a non-runner changes the complexion of a race and disadvantages punters who would have made different decisions with accurate and timely information.
Evans asserts that he had not known about the rule to declare non-runners as soon as possible and had imagined there was no hurry. I’m not a lawyer but as far as I’m aware ignorance is not considered a worthy defence, and in any case the intent seems clear – he was trying get a better price with insider information.
I am not naive. As I stated in my book, I do not believe all of British racing to be straight and true, and this is not the first and won’t be the last issue to reinforce that point. I believe that the challenge for the punter is to try and be ahead despite the unlevel playing field.
However, and this really is key, I would like the governing body of my beloved sport to do better job than this in upholding its integrity. Evans did wrong and has paid the rather small price, but the cost to the reputation of horse racing is palpable, and the response of the BHA pathetic.