An increasingly popular range of online spread betting products was exploited with insider knowledge of horse races to generate guaranteed profits for a corrupt network of people.
In short, this was the outcome of a lengthy British Horseracing Authority (BHA) inquiry into allegations of race fixing involving Irish, English, and American horses in less prestigious events.
It exposed just how easy it can be to manipulate the growing trend of using spread betting companies instead of bookies.
These firms, such as Betfair and Betdaq, provide a legitimate service to allow customers hedge their options and take a punt on a wider range of outcomes.
But the BHA probe confirmed what has long been suspected. The choices available allow those with an intimate knowledge of the horses to line their pockets at the expense of genuine gamblers.
These people — including a highly rated jockey, Eddie Ahern, and his friend and racehorse owner former footballer Neil Clement — reaped the rewards by taking advantage of bets placed by an unknowing public.
When the tricks used in this scam are laid out, the scheme seems obvious.
Ahern, 35, has been riding for more than 12 years and it was his relationship with owner, Clement, which was the primary focus of the inquiry. Both men have now been banned by the disciplinary panel.
One of the lines of inquiry focused on Clement’s wife’s who had a Betfair account between Jan and Feb 2011, during which time 515 bets were placed. There were nine races in which an early stake of more than £1,000 was put down. Four of these were put on horses ridden by Ahern.
All were successful.
One of those included a race where Ahern rode Judgethemoment at Lingfield. This 6-year-old former winner was described as having its best days behind it.
On that day, Ahern sprinted away on the horse for the first half of the race. The BHA said this was to deliberately tire it out before it inevitably faded with four furlongs to go.
But it was not the only trade Clement was involved in ahead of Judgethemoment’s fourth-place finish.
Through the Star Spreads company, he risked £41,500 to apparently guess the performance of Judgethemoment.
He won £8,500.
The risk and return might seem extraordinary for a man who a year earlier was in the habit of making small bets, according to his accounts records.
But, if he was guaranteed that Judgethemoment would not finish in the places, he could plan for a 20% return on his investment. Ahern had argued that Clement was placing these bets without his knowledge. The BHA said this was improbable.
In the seven months before the race, the pair had phoned or texted more than 260 times and met regularly.
During the inquiry, Ahern said the race was a rush of blood to the head. The BHA said its inquiry panel “simply could not conclude that Ahern’s “terrible” ride and his friend’s large lay bet were innocent, unconnected events”.
Separately, Clement had his own Betdaq account and used to place small amounts on races, but this habit changed in mid-2010 when he started putting down much larger sums.
On Feb 10, 2011, he had just primed his account with £40,000 and placed a bet of £20,057 on bets in a race where Ahern rode French Art. Clement won £4,290. Using his Betfair account for the same race, he gambled £2,410 and won £700.
There were other instances orchestrated by connections of Ahern which involved neither of the two men.
On Mar 9, 2011, Stoneacre Gareth, an Irish-bred horse, started a convincing 11/4 favourite at the 3.10 in Lingfield after two recent wins. For punters watching on, he looked to be in control, leading from the front right up to the final turn.
But the horse just did not have the energy for the long finishing straight, despite a crack from his jockey, Adam Kirby, and was deemed to be innocent of any wrongdoing.
What the many punters who backed him into the favourite position did not know, was that he was sick. He had spent the previous week in a field to get ‘gunk’ out of his system, he had a bleeding problem, and was not seen by a vet.
In these races, the crowd was never going to win because the horses they had backed to be favourites were fixed to lose. The inside network, meanwhile, who could manipulate the performance, bet against the market.
Traditionally, a gambler would have had to take a punt on a horse winning or at least getting a place.
It meant there was always the risk, even in a gerrymandered race, that a better horse could turn up on the day.
But, with spread betting, somebody can get a return by putting their money on a single runner failing to preform. It does not matter what the rest of the field do. It means those with an inside knowledge that a horse will not run to its peak can successfully chase their bets by picking up losing slips on the exchange markets.
The BHA has just completed its first probe done with the cooperation of a spread betting firm.
It said it has already linked up with other firms and, with the information gleaned, it hopes to pursue new inquiries.