Six-month ban for Jim Best
Trainer Jim Best has seven days to lodge an appeal after being given a six-month suspension, with no financial penalty, by a British Horseracing Authority disciplinary panel following a rehearing into the running and riding of two horses in December last year.
Jim Best has been found guilty
The panel ruled Best had instructed conditional jockey Paul John to ride Echo Brava and Missile Man other than on their merits and that they were "stopping rides".
Panel chairman Sir William Gage said: "That being so, the findings against Mr Best under Rule (C) 45 in respect of both races necessarily follow because he did not give his jockey proper instructions."
The Lewes-based handler was also found to be in breach of the rule governing conduct prejudicial to horseracing.
Best, who denied all of the charges, was originally found in breach at a hearing in February, leading to a four-year disqualification.
But it emerged the chairman of the disciplinary panel at that hearing, solicitor Matthew Lohn, was engaged by the BHA on other matters, giving rise to claims of an appearance of bias in favour of the governing body.
At Best's appeal in May, the guilty verdict and penalty were quashed and a rehearing ordered, with the BHA having conceded that while there was ''no suggestion of any actual bias'' in the case, the non-disclosure of Lohn's other work ''created an appearance of bias''. The appeal board also said the disciplinary panel's reasons for its findings "were clearly insufficient to support its decision in this case".
John was never disqualified from the sport nor excluded from racecourses, but he was banned for 150 days – between December 21, 2015 to May 19 this year – when he was unable to apply for a licence.
The case revolved around the performances of Echo Brava at Plumpton on December 14 and Missile Man at Towcester on December 17. Both horses finished unplaced.
On the new penalty, Gage said: "The previous panel in the first inquiry, in our judgement… the penalty put forward was too substantial to stand.
"Mr Best's licence should be suspended for six months from today and there should be no financial penalty. That is our decision."
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Gage added: "This is an extemporary judgement. It is quite clear that offences such as this are very serious, as they strike at the heart of racing.
"We've taken into account the serious of the findings and we think, in the circumstances, having heard both sides, we've reached a conclusion that is a proper penalty in relation to these matters."
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, for Best, said during submissions on penalty: "No disciplinary panel, or appeal board or indeed any court would have allowed a penalty that starts with a four-year disqualification for this particular breach of the rules.
"A four-year ban was grossly and manifestly excessive. It lacked any sense of proportionality in the nature of the offence. This panel would fall into error if it it disqualified Mr Best for any length of time."
On the rules, he said: "It's not suggested that the offence of this sort can be anything other than a financial penalty for a trainer. Mr Best could have expected a fine of £7,500 adjusted regarding the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
"For the second offence the starting point would generally be doubled to that of the first offence. There is no suggestion of a trainer being banned, not even for a short space of time.
"He has been through far too much and the fault entirely lies at the BHA's door. He has been put through a flawed hearing. He has had this for the best part of the year hanging over him.
"Mr Best left school early at about 13 and has worked full-time in racing. It is clear to anyone that he is absolutely dedicated to the sport. He lives and breathes it.
"He is a trainer of talent and capable of great success."
Barrister Louis Weston for the BHA had said: "Only a disqualification is the appropriate penalty in this case because of the effect in the public confidence in the sport. There is no explanation for this conduct, or a good one.
"We say the significant breach in conduct you find in one horse on one race takes you to the top of one penalty. Two distinct events take you outside that and it can't be met properly by any fine."
A statement subsequently released by Stewart-Moore solicitors after Best had been found in breach read: "The Matthew Lohn judgement has essentially been regurgitated by the latest panel. This is most unfortunate given that Mr Best objected to two of its members sitting, one because of his connection with Mr Lohn."
It added: "Given the seriousness of his allegations, Paul John's evidence should simply have been ignored in its entirety."
Speaking following the announcement of the penalty, Harry Stewart-Moore said: "It's hard to know how to react. While we don't agree on their findings of liability, they (new panel) came up with a proportionate penalty.
"The first one was just outrageous."
He added: "Mr Best considered coming to the appeal, but he had pre-arranged commitments he could not get out of. We will talk to him about him his intentions (regarding) where to go next."
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