BHA advised to clarify guidelines
Guidelines for penalties handed out for anyone found guilty of the same offences as Jim Best should be made clearer, according to the disciplinary panel responsible for punishing the Lewes trainer.
Best was suspended for six months by the independent disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority on Monday for instructing conditional jockey Paul John to deliberately not win on two horses, and for conduct prejudicial to horseracing.
In its written reasons for the penalty, the panel suggests the BHA amends its guidelines.
The statement from the three-man panel of Sir William Gage, William Norris QC and Nicholas Wachman, said: "In reaching that decision, we gained only limited assistance from the guidelines as to the length of that suspension.
"As a comment, we suggest that if the BHA regards suspension or disqualification for a longer period as appropriate for such a case as the present, then it would be wise were the guidelines to reflect that policy directly and with clarity.
"Speaking for ourselves, we can see that might better reflect the gravity of the kind of misconduct we find here."
The panel's decision followed the rehearing of the case into the running and riding of two horses in December last year.
The panel ruled Best – who was disqualified for four years at the original hearing chaired by Matthew Lohn before that judgment was quashed on appeal over the perception of possible bias and insufficient nature of the original panel's reasons – had instructed John to ride Echo Brava and Missile Man other than on their merits and that they were "stopping rides".
Rather than hand Best a disqualification and/or a financial penalty, the panel decided on a suspension lasting from December 20, 2016 to June 19, 2017.
The panel was critical of Best and the BHA: "Mr Best has, we were told, no relevant disciplinary history. We also bear in mind that, but for the BHA's errors of process and the inadequacy of the reasons given by the previous panel, this case should have been concluded by the beginning of April this year.
"We heard and we accept that, regardless of the expenses involved in legal representation, the case has already had serious consequences for Mr Best's business and that the number of horses in his yard has reduced from over 30 to 13 during the course of the last 12 months.
"Nevertheless, this is a serious case in all the circumstances. There is, in our judgment, no mitigation. The sort of dishonest practices involved here strike at the heart of racing's integrity. In addition, Mr John was young and vulnerable and Mr Best took advantage of him.
"Far from acknowledging what he had done, Mr Best persisted in denying his wrongdoing and pursued a strategy of characterising Mr John as a liar who, for his own base reasons, had decided to blame the trainer whilst attempting to conceal his shortcomings as a character and as a jockey. That strategy has failed and we have found that Mr John rode as he did because those were Mr Best's instructions."
The statement continued: "We decided that suspension rather than disqualification or withdrawal of the training licence was appropriate not least because of the adverse impact that those alternatives would have had on those who work for Mr Best and are innocent of wrongdoing.
"We do not impose any additional financial penalty. The adverse financial consequences that Mr Best has already faced and will face in the future are considerable and we do not regard it as appropriate to add further to them."
Best still has the option of appealing the suspension.
In response, a statement from the BHA read: "The BHA argued that the panel should impose a significant period of disqualification on Mr Best to preserve the reputation of British horseracing and to maintain public confidence in the integrity and proper regulation of our sport.
"The panel, which is independent of the BHA's executive function, agreed that the matter was a serious case that struck at the heart of racing's integrity, but their reasons show that in the specific case of Mr Best, they considered it appropriate to suspend his licence not disqualify him, as well as commenting on the existing penalty guidelines.
"The BHA will consider the panel's comments over the coming days, and months, but we will make no further comment while the appeal window is still open."
The BHA's recommended range of penalties for a breach of Rule A (30) – that governs conduct prejudicial to horseracing – include suspension, withdrawal or disqualification of between one month and three years.