Donn's Articles » Harry Findlay

Harry Findlay

At some point, common sense has to prevail. Harry Findlay was warned off for six months last Friday for laying his own horse on Betfair on two occasions, yet on both occasions Findlay was a net backer of the horse. On both occasions, he stood to lose if the horse lost, he stood to gain if the horse won. In one sense (the common sense), he can legitimately wonder what he did wrong.

When Gullible Gordon ran in a novices’ hurdle at Exeter on 21st October 2008, the net position of all of Findlay’s bets, back and lay, was that he stood to lose £62,321 if the horse lost and to win £23,755 if the horse won. On 10th October 2009 at Chepstow, same horse in a novices’ chase, Findlay stood to lose £31,966 if the horse lost and to win £35,245 if he won. By clicking the lay button, or by having his associate Glenn Gill do so on his behalf, Findlay contravened the strict interpretation of Rule 247 and Rule E (92.2), the rules that expressly preclude an owner, or a person who is involved in managing a horse, from “laying any horse he owns with a betting organisation to lose a race,” but he did not commit the crime that the rule is there to protect against.

Findlay broke the letter of the law, but not the spirit of it. The law is an organic entity, it changes and adapts to the changes that are taking place in the society that it seeks to regulate. In courts of law around the world, judges interpret statutes and set precedents for the future. Within racing’s little cocoon, nowhere is the pace of change more rapid than in the whole area of betting. Yet, in disqualifying Findlay on Friday, in a case for which there was no precedent, the BHA’s disciplinary panel chose to stick to the letter of the law while ignoring the sense of it.

Of course, Findlay is not completely faultless here. For starters, in laying one of his horses at all, he had to have known that it was probable that it would at least draw attention, in this age of openness and transparency. In fairness to the professional gambler, however, it was he who brought the BHA’s attention to his betting activity on the 2008 race, not the other way around.

There is also a small question mark over the timing of the back and lay bets prior to the 2008 race. Originally, Findlay said that he backed the horse to win a significant amount, but when he learned that the horse would be held up instead of make the running, he sought to reduce his liability by laying some of the bet back. In actuality, however, the lay bet was struck before the back bet.

When asked about this at the hearing, Findlay suggested that it was a mistake, that he clicked the lay button instead of the back button, an explanation that the panel accepted, after a suggestion that he was trying to gain more advantageous odds for his subsequent back bets by initially laying the horse was rubbished by Findlay. Ironically, if Findlay’s original explanation had been true, if he had sought to reduce the liability of his back bet by laying the horse after hearing about race tactics, his penalty may have been more severe because it could have been construed that he was acting on inside information.

While Findlay is not without blame, however, he has been given a felon’s punishment for committing a misdemeanour, a prison sentence for parking in a clearway. Calls for clemency, and for leniency because he is good for racing, are wide of the mark. Findlay is good for racing, no question, he is one of the few characters in the game who arouse the interest of non-racing enthusiasts, but to call for leniency is to miss the point. The punishment should fit the transgression. In this instance, it does not.

This is nothing like the Miles Rodgers case, when the owner of Platinum Racing was banned for two years in April 2004 for laying his horses to lose on Betfair. Nor is it like the case of Darren Mercer, who laid his horse, Joss Naylor, on Betfair shortly before the 2003 Welsh National (a race in which the horse didn’t ultimately participate), having backed him ante post with a bookmaker. Yet Findlay received the same punishment as Mercer did.

There were a couple of slightly disconcerting inclusions in the BHA’s report on the disciplinary panel findings. There was the concept that, because Findlay’s lay bets on Gullible Gordon in the novices’ chase were ultimately losing bets, because the horse won, they represented a less serious transgression than would have been the case if the horse had lost. There was also the bizarre notion that lay betting in-running is, to some extent, a less serious breach of the rule than lay betting before the start, because the running of the race is public, and because punters can take their own view of what they see.

The entire episode betrays a comprehension of betting at BHA headquarters that is worryingly less than complete. BHA 1-0 Common Sense.

© Racing Post, 15th June 2010