The competence and independence of Ray Murrihy as an expert witness was questioned yesterday during a day of attrition at the Old Bailey. The chief steward of New South Wales has raised concerns over 13 of the 27 rides he was asked to examine by police investigating allegations of race-fixing.
But it was suggested that some of these objections reflected a specifically Australian perspective, irrelevant to British racing, and also that he had been asked to find fault wherever possible.
Murrihy locked horns all day with John Kelsey-Fry QC, representing Kieren Fallon. The six-times champion jockey is one of six men charged with conspiracy to defraud customers of the online betting exchange, Betfair. Fallon rode 17 of the horses allegedly laid to lose, winning on five of them. All the defendants plead not guilty.
Kelsey-Fry and Murrihy found it difficult to discover common ground. This ultimately caused a moment of levity, when Murrihy was asked to explain the significance of a horse – cajoled to success by Fallon – having swished its tail. He retorted that Kelsey-Fry would have to ask the horse, because there were many different reasons why this could happen. Exasperated, Kelsey-Fry asked Murrihy whether he expected him to summon the horse in question, Daring Aim – the property, as it happens, of the Queen. Hearty laughter around the court suggested that a cross-examination of Daring Aim could scarcely prove less productive than some recent exchanges.
For the tone of the day was stony throughout. At one stage, Murrihy pointedly checked a trivial fact raised by Kelsey-Fry. Asked why he had done so, he replied: "I wouldn't want you to mislead me." Kelsey-Fry asked him to repeat what he had said. Murrihy did so, and was rewarded with a long, silent Paddington stare.
Earlier Kelsey-Fry, referring to a police transcript, had reminded Murrihy of a conversation with an investigating officer in which he was told that "we're clearly looking for any evidence that might support the fact he wasn't riding to win". But Murrihy said that he had never understood that the police were asking him to "pull apart" every race. Nor would he have accepted such instructions. "I called it as I'd seen it," he said.
If the officer had made such a remark, it would have gone over his head. Kelsey-Fry, however, noted that the transcript had recorded a response from Murrihy. At the time they were studying a video of Fallon's front-running success on Barking Mad at Windsor in August 2004. According to the transcript, Murrihy told the officer: "On balance, you would say that going to the front and exposing yourself, having to get a horse beat from the front, wouldn't be the ideal way of doing it."
Murrihy said that his only reason for calling a stewards' inquiry into Barking Mad's success would have been that Fallon had repeatedly looked over his shoulder while easing his mount, before winning comfortably. Kelsey-Fry had emphasised that this practice was discouraged in Australia, but was integral to the British racing culture – not just to protect a winner from punishment by the handicapper, but on welfare grounds.
In general terms, moreover, he proposed that British stewards, who had seen nothing of concern in the vast majority of the races under review, were better placed to form a judgement. Murrihy would not cede that point. Presented with a reverse hypothesis, he said that he "wouldn't be insulted if a UK steward who had the experience and the ability to read a race" made observations on an Australian race.
Taking Murrihy through the video, Kelsey-Fry finally extracted an admission that Fallon had ridden Barking Mad positively from an awkward draw. He asked: "Bearing in mind his draw and preferred manner of racing, Kieren Fallon did everything necessary to ensure the maximum chance of winning, didn't he?" Murrihy responded: "I wouldn't disagree with that proposition." Kelsey-Fry, with a long-suffering air, said: "The answer's yes, then." Murrihy assented. "Thank you."
Elaborating the different habits of riders in Britain and Australia, Kelsey-Fry reminded Murrihy how he had told the jury he had never experienced a ride akin to Ballinger Ridge, caught on the line after being heavily eased at Lingfield in March 2004. He then showed eight different British races in which jockeys threw away victory in similar fashion, in all cases – like Fallon – being punished by the stewards for an error of judgement, without intent. Kelsey-Fry asked whether he would accept that all these riders were guilty of "horrendous blunders". But Murrihy refused to do so, without knowing more about the background to each ride. "Desperation happens," he said. "I've seen them jump off to get beaten."
The trial continues today.