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Banned jockey Dean McKeown claims his life was put at risk in 'fixed' race 15/10/2009
Chris Cook at the High Court

Dean McKeown's life was put at risk when he rode a horse that had been deliberately mis-shod so that it would lose, a court heard yesterday. The claim was made by a barrister representing McKeown at the High Court in London, where Kieren Fallon was among those in the public seats.

McKeown was warned off for four years by the British Horseracing Authority last autumn, after he was found to have been part of a nine-man conspiracy to profit from the laying of horses. The 49-year-old former jockey claims he had no knowledge of the betting activity and is asking the court to quash the BHA's decision.

Opening the case, Ian Winter QC said it was extraordinary that both front shoes came off Skip Of Colour as the horse led into the final furlong at Lingfield on 19 March 2004. That incident, coupled with the fact that the horse had been heavily layed on betting exchanges, meant that "the only reasonable conclusion one can draw is that the horse was deliberately mis-shod by the trainer, or that some other person connected with the horse knew there was a problem with his front shoes," he said.

Skip Of Colour's trainer, Paul Blockley, had provided all the inside information relied on by the conspirators, Winter claimed. Blockley is currently serving a ban of two and a half years, having been found by the BHA to have played a lesser part in the plot than McKeown.

But Winter said that no jockey would have agreed to ride a horse at racing speed in the knowledge that both front shoes were loose. The chance of a fall was such that there was an obvious risk of injury or even death, he added.

Winter made slow progress as he was frequently asked for explanations by Mr Justice Stadlen, the latest in a series of judges required to assimilate the recondite worlds of racing and gambling. Among the questions on which he required help were how a five-furlong specialist should be ridden when racing over six, and what were the implications of a horse having a mouth like an iron bar.

At one point, Winter said it was accepted by stewards that a horse can sometimes be given a sympathetic ride if, for some reason, it is short of peak fitness, though the jockey must still make enough effort to avoid breaching the rules. "Surely you either try to win or you don't," Stadlen suggested. "I'm afraid that's a little naive, m'lord," he was told.

During a break in proceedings, Fallon said he had come in search of the meaning of inside information. "I've spoken to a few of the boys [other jockeys] and they don't know. I'm hoping the judge will define it. He's an intelligent man."

The BHA's Paul Struthers responded that all riders have received leaflets and been required to take part in seminars, explaining what they can and can't do with inside information. But Fallon, who indicated there was widespread interest in the case among jockeys, was dismissive.

"There's no point sending leaflets out. Do we read it? I know I don't. The seminars are different, but I've not been to any."

Mr Justice Stadlen adjourned the hearing on Thursday, having decided that he should view videos of the races concerned under similar conditions to the original BHA panel and appeal board. The case will resume friday morning at the BHA's new headquarters in Holborn.

"If the submission [by McKeown] is that no reasonable panel or appeal board could have failed to conclude that the video evidence was insufficient [to find him in breach]," Stadlen told the court, "I think it's better that I should see it in the same way they did."

Four races will be of particular interest to the hearing, from 11 that formed the BHA's case against McKeown and a number of others, including the trainer Paul Blockley, who was warned off for two and a half years. In all four, the BHA panel decided that McKeown had broken the non-trier rules and ensured that the horses he was riding would not win, so that others could profit.

Yesterday's evidence examined one race in particular, in which Only If I Laugh, ridden by McKeown, was beaten by Obe Gold, the mount of Franny Norton. Only If I Laugh was laid heavily to lose on Betfair. Ian Winter QC, for McKeown, said the BHA had been wrong to infer from the evidence that McKeown had agreed to stop Only If I Laugh, should it be necessary.

He said that lay bets on Betfair placed by Clive Whiting, a friend of McKeown's and the former owner at Blockley's yard, risked similar amounts in this case to others in which it was accepted that McKeown was not deliberately riding to lose.

Winter also suggested that Norton "had been shouting his mouth off at the racecourse", saying that "Obe Gold would thrash his field". This, he said, could account for at least some of the betting.