Earlier this winter I got a call from a South Florida owner asking about a jockey who had won the previous day's final race at Gulfstream Park at odds of 36-1.
“His name was F. Lynch,” the owner said. “I think he got into some kind of trouble in England.”
“That would be Fergal Lynch (or Feargal, as his first name is spelled by Equibase),” I told him. “He was banned some years back by the British Horseracing Authority for his part in a betting scandal.”
“Then why is he allowed to race here?” the owner asked me.
“Well, there's two ways to look at this,” I replied. “Either you give someone a second chance after they serve their time for what they did wrong or you ban them for life.”
I happen to believe in second chances. Lynch served his time.
The Fergal Lynch saga dates back to 2004 when he provided inside information to Miles Rodgers, a horse owner and gambler who was using the information to place “lay” bets on numerous betting exchanges (betting against horses to win). Lynch spoke to Rodgers by telephone before an August 2004 race at Ripon racecourse. London police secretly recorded the conversation. Lynch would later admit, as a result of that conversation, he held a well-backed horse named Bond City, preventing it from winning.
Though a criminal trial for race fixing ended with acquittals for Rodgers, Lynch and four others in 2007, the British Horseracing Authority pursued its case against the jockey and in July 2009 a plea bargained deal resulted in a £50,000 fine and an agreement by Lynch not to ride in the UK for a year.
Lynch had moved to the United States and was riding at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania, where he was among the leading jockeys, with 103 victories from 655 mounts in 2009. After the ruling in the United Kingdom, however, Parx banned him as well.
An effort by Lynch to regain his license in 2011 was denied by the British Horseracing Authority, but he was eventually licensed in Ireland, the United Arab Emirates, France, and Germany. In August 2014, nearly 10 years after the incident in question at Ripon, the British Horseracing Authority relented, giving Lynch his license back, a decision that was not universally embraced.
Lynch, now 38, has made the most of his reinstatement. He was among the UK's top 20 jockeys by wins in 2015 (57 from 409 rides), guided Mondialiste to a Grade 1 victory at Woodbine in Canada last September, and just a week after that rode four winners on one card at Hamilton Park in the UK. He spent this winter at Gulfstream Park, where he's had a tough time breaking through, riding three winners so far from 103 mounts.
But Lynch's biggest contribution to the sport may have come while in front of a camera.
Last year, in a public service video produced by the British Horseracing Authority, Lynch spoke openly about his relationship with Rodgers, not only providing him with inside information but having Rodgers place bets for him. “I foolishly thought that I would get away with it,” Lynch said in the video.
“Looking back it's cost me everything,” he said. “I've lost 10 years of my riding career that I'll never get back. I'll never be able to wipe the slate clean and everybody will forget about it. It's going to stay with me for the rest of my life.”
The video, which includes advice to young riders on what to do if approached by gamblers for inside information, was not available for Darren Egan, an apprentice rider who got caught up in a similar “lay” betting scandal in 2013 and recently received a 12-year suspension from the British Horseracing Authority that affected his ability to be licensed by the California Horse Racing Board as an exercise rider.
American-based riders should take heed.
Exchange wagering is coming soon to the United States, with New Jersey expected to be the first state to get on-board. Residents of the Garden State eventually will be able to bet against horses winning at Monmouth Park and other tracks that Betfair reaches agreement with for exchange wagering. Jockeys and other “insiders” need to know that passing information along for the purposes of gambling can lead to serious consequences. They should also know that Betfair has advanced technology that can recognize unusual betting patterns.
Not everyone is willing to give you a second chance.
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