David Evans described as “very lenient” the fine of £3,000 meted out to him by racing’s ruling body after the trainer admitted he had delayed news of a non-runner in the hope of backing another horse in the same race at better odds. Evans staked £6,000 at 4-1 on Black Dave but lost his money when the horse, from his stable near Pandy in Monmouthshire, could finish only fourth.
At the outset of Monday’s hearing Evans conceded he was guilty of conduct prejudicial to horseracing but a disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority ruled the offence was not so grave as to imperil his licence. “Mr Evans was intent on, as he described it, ‘nicking a bit of extra value’ ... without first disclosing he was about to pull out the market-leader,” said Tim Charlton QC, delivering the verdict. “The sport of horse racing has a fundamental interest in honest and accurate betting markets.”
Charlton said the offence justified a fine of £4,000, which he reduced to £3,000 because Evans gave “honest answers at every stage of the investigation” and also because the BHA had delayed bringing the case for so long.
Evans had doomed himself when placing the bet by phone to Ladbrokes in January 2015. The trader with whom he spoke, apparently intrigued that the trainer was staking the largest bet ever made through his account on one of his two runners, asked: “What’s the message there, then?” Evans immediately told him he was going to withdraw Tango Sky. Ladbrokes notified the BHA of their concerns over the bet later that same day.
But the question of whether Evans had actually obtained any advantage proved a tricky one for the panel. Evans’s bet, had it won, would have been settled at 3-1 because the eventual withdrawal of Tango Sky triggered a Rule 4 deduction of 25p in the pound from earlier bets. A Ladbrokes witness, Keith Page, estimated Evans would have been offered 5-2 about Black Dave if he had declared his non-runner before placing his bet, so the trainer gained only half a point.
Muddying the waters further, Ladbrokes had freely chosen to add half a point to the odds they gave Evans, as Black Dave was a 7-2 shot when he called. Page said this was to recognise Evans’s status as a high-value customer of longstanding. Tim Naylor, presenting the BHA’s case, expressed no concern about a trainer getting over-the-odds about his own horse in such circumstances and specifically noted that Ladbrokes’ conduct was not under scrutiny at this hearing.
Naylor later indicated that the BHA’s integrity department might yet consider the issue of trainers taking enhanced odds. If so, it may get valuable input from the BHA chief executive, Nick Rust, who joined the BHA from Ladbrokes three days after the race in question.
Evans was asked by a member of the panel about how often he was offered enhanced odds by a bookmaker. “Only on horses trained by myself,” he replied.
Another aspect of Ladbrokes’ behaviour that attracted interest was their decision to shorten Tango Sky from 7-2 to 3-1 just four minutes after Evans’s call, at which point their traders knew from the trainer that Tango Sky was to be a non-runner.
Page, who was not in post at the time, said the relevant trader could not now recall why the horse’s odds were shortened. Page acknowledged as a possible explanation that this may have been “a very cynical price change” intended to trigger a 25p per pound deduction rather than the 20p deduction which would have been triggered by the horse’s previous odds.
At his initial interview with BHA investigators, Evans said he had not known there was a rule requiring prompt declaration of non-runners and had imagined there was no hurry. His solicitor, Rory Mac Neice, said: “David’s first reaction to the verdict was, ‘Lesson learned’. The lesson learned is that David wishes he had been more familiar with the rules. And had he been, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Evans told the BHA’s investigators: “You’ve got to try and pinch a bit of value now and again,” as the reason he had delayed making Tango Sky a non-runner until an hour after placing his bet. Asked after the verdict what he would say to punters irked by his behaviour, the trainer replied: “Most of them would probably approve of it. None of my owners have took offence.”
Evans spent part of that hour phoning the owners of some horses at his stable, some of whom then backed Black Dave before he shortened up to start as the 6-4 favourite in the Wolverhampton race. However, as Mac Neice pointed out, there was no evidence that Evans told those owners Tango Sky was to be a non-runner and the BHA somehow failed to put that question to the trainer during the two years and 10 months of this investigation.
“This has gone on for far too long,” Mac Neice told the panel. “It was obvious at the time this investigation began that there would be charges. Those charges should have been brought quickly.”
Mac Neice reported the BHA’s excuses for the delay as being: “There were a lot of changes and a lot of disruption last year, staff were departing, resources were stretched ... Those aren’t appropriate reasons to delay a case like this for so long. Mr Evans has had to operate with a cloud of this nature hanging over him for longer than he should have done.”