Betting is an integral part of the sport of horse racing but are there rules about who can and cannot bet on a horse to win? Normal punters can bet to their heart’s content, as can bookmakers (who often place wagers to hedge their position), whilst owners of horses can also make bets too; but what about jockeys and trainers?
Can they bet on themselves to win a race? And how about betting against themselves in a given contest? The integrity of the sport is crucial and with fixing a problem in just about every sport where betting is involved – in other words, every sport – there are strict and specific rules about who can place what bets when it comes to horse racing.
Can Jockeys Bet on Horseracing?
In most sports, most notably football and cricket, there are very strict rules that prohibit players from betting. These vary from country to country, sport to sport and according to the level of competition. Sometimes professionals are barred from betting entirely, sometimes just from their own sport, and in some cases they can make bets just not when they or their team are directly involved. In some instances the regulations may even allow them to bet on their own contests as long as they are not betting against themselves or their team.
Jockeys lie very much at the stricter end of the spectrum in this regard and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) explicitly state what riders can and cannot do. The BHA is the governing body of horseracing in Britain and one of its stated aims is to look after the integrity of the sport. Their dedicated integrity education area offers a range of resources including a quiz to help anyone involved with racing understand what is permitted and what is prohibited.
When it comes to professional jockeys, things are very simple and the BHA state that:
A Professional Jockey must not lay or back bet on a horse in any race, or instruct another person to do so, or receive proceeds from such a bet.
In short, any licenced pro jockey cannot have any bets on horseracing at all, nor can they profit from anyone else’s bets or get others to make bets for them. They should not be present in the betting ring at a race, nor accept any gifts or rewards from others. In addition, they should not “associate or communicate directly or indirectly with betting organisations or with any person representing a betting organisation…”.
There are various other complex regulations surrounding what a jockey can do but in simple terms, jockeys cannot bet or have any real involvement with betting in their own sport. That is a simple, total, blanket ban, so they can neither bet on themselves to win a race nor bet on a horse 10,000 miles away in Melbourne to win.
With regards amateur riders, who frequently take part in reasonably big races, the rules are slightly different. They fall into one of the other categories we listed above and are only restricted in terms of races in which they are actually riding. In such a race they must not have any betting involvement but they may do so where they are not actually acting as a jockey.
Can Trainers Bet on Themselves?
The picture with trainers is slightly different but is also very clearly stated by the BHA under their betting practices.
A Trainer must not lay bet on a horse that is under their care or control, or instruct another person to do so, or receive proceeds from such a bet.
At first glance that may appear the same as the rules that govern a jockey’s behaviour. However, the difference is that whilst a jockey can neither back or lay, a trainer is only prohibited from laying. That means a trainer can bet on their horse to win but cannot bet against them doing so.
Why are Trainers & Jockeys Treated Differently?
There are some differences of opinion as to why the rules are different but it is fairly obvious that jockeys have a more direct impact on the outcome of a contest. Whilst trainers exert a huge long-term influence on an animal’s performance and are crucial in preparing it for action, it is the jockey who is actually part of the race.
For this reason, it seems reasonable that greater restrictions might well be placed on them but is it right that they cannot bet on themselves to win, or bet on other races in which they are not taking part? Some would say it is best for the integrity of the sport that those taking part in the action cannot also be involved in betting.
Fixing of matches or events and corruption are fairly commonplace in almost all sports and a total ban on jockeys betting is clearer, easier to enforce and removes any possibility of collusion between jockeys. However, there are those who suggest that such rules are based more on snobbery. Owners, who have similar restrictions to trainers in that they cannot bet against their own horses, have traditionally been members of the upper classes. The same was once true of trainers and whilst much has changed many feel the betting rules reflect a lingering element of “one rule for them…”.
This may or may not be true but the rules as they stand certainly give greater freedoms to those who almost always have more power and more money. However, with racing far from free of corruption, we do not expect to see any relaxing of the rules any time soon.
Do Jockeys & Trainers Break These Rules?
Theory and practice, regulations and real world, are often different things and that is, sadly, true when it comes to horseracing. Whilst the biggest names in the sport of racing, be they jockeys, trainers or owners, compete for huge prizes (the richest race in the world was worth $20m in 2020!), the majority of people involved in racing do not earn a great deal.
That makes the temptation to supplement their income through betting at best and fixing at worst very strong. There are hundreds of jockeys and trainers and in the same way that footballers and other sportspeople have been known to break, or at least bend, betting rules, so too have those involved with racing.
The Guardian have reported on trainers betting and over the years there have been several high profile incidents regarding jockeys and handlers. The biggest and most famous of these was probably the alleged fixing plot involving Kieren Fallon.
This was far more sinister than simply betting, with allegations of fixing levelled at the jockey. Whilst he was ultimately found not guilty, there have been several other cases where jockeys have been banned due to betting and it is clear that the BHA still have much work to do.
What About Tips & Inside Information?
There are lots of grey areas when it comes to this whole issue and a number of overlapping concerns, which is partly why we think there is a total ban on jockeys betting. At the most sinister end of the spectrum you have race fixing, where jockeys or trainers seek to guarantee a certain outcome in a race.
With the advent of Betfair and other betting exchanges, this is typically for a horse to lose a race. Such an outcome is far easier to fix and it is relatively easy for a lone jockey to make sure their horse doesn’t win whilst not attracting any real attention. With many races offering small prize money in the thousands or even hundreds of pounds, why try and win when you can make more betting on your horse not to win?
Other than fixing, you might see connections using their inside information to gain an advantage over bookies and other punters. Where does a trainer or jockey telling a friend that a horse is in great shape, or knowing that a horse is perhaps a little off colour cross the lines set by the BHA though?
This is very much a grey area and whilst the BHA is at pains to reduce corruption, fixing and the racing equivalent of insider dealing, it is very hard to police. The Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) have betting guidelines and this seeks to lay down what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable in terms of inside information.
The BHA’s rules outlaw any direct betting, as well as communication with betting organisations but the PJA go into the matter a little more deeply with regards tips and information. Because of the nature of this issue even these guidelines are fairly vague and open to interpretation but one fairly obvious restriction is that jockeys cannot offer:
Inside Information directly or indirectly to any other person, (other than the owner or owner’s representative), for any material reward, gift, favour or benefit in kind, which is not in the public domain or is not provided for in the Rules of Racing.
Equally, they are expressly barred from operating or being connected with any tipping service, whilst “repeated or systematic passing of Inside Information, to the same individual (including another jockey or another trainer), even if there is no reward” is listed as something that will be viewed suspiciously.
What the PJA Has to Say
Under the PJA heading “Inside Information – Acceptable Uses For Jockeys”, there are a number of fairly vague guidelines. One of the key elements is that information they provide is typically publically available, or offered to a select but large number of people (such as “corporate sponsorship groups” for example). Less clearly, they speak of both “casual” and “day-to-day” conversations, although this comes with the warning that, “Jockeys must bear in mind that careless talk and casual chat can get them into trouble.”
In short, professional jockeys cannot bet on horseracing at all. They cannot pass information to bookies or other betting organisations, nor be connected with tipster services. In general, any specific information they provide about horses must be done publicly, whilst giving information of any kind on a frequent basis to the same person or people will be investigated.
Amateur riders face similar controls in terms of information, as do trainers, but the betting restrictions for both are less far-reaching. In the case of amateur riders they can bet on any races in which they are not involved. Trainers, on the other hand, can make any bets they want other than ones directly against their own horses.