• Jockey Andrew Heffernan only defendant to turn up
• British Horseracing Authority inquiry set to last 10 days
Andrew Heffernan was the only one of nine defendants to appear at the start of a 10-day corruption hearing at the British Horseracing Authority on Monday. Among the absentees were three professional footballers charged with betting-related offences by the BHA, who include Ipswich Town's Michael Chopra and James Coppinger of Doncaster Rovers.
Heffernan, a jockey who was based in Britain at the time of the alleged offences two years ago but now lives and works in Australia, faces several charges, including three of having deliberately prevented his mount from winning. In defiant mood, he arrived at the BHA's offices five minutes before the hearing was due to begin and declared: "I'm here to fight it".
Asked how he had felt on learning of the charges, Heffernan said: "I was pretty shocked, to be fair, because I didn't know what was going to happen, what was going to come out." He was accompanied by his mother, who sat in on the hearing.
Heffernan will be represented by the solicitor Christopher Stewart-Moore, who has frequently been engaged by jockeys in difficulty, including Kieren Fallon at his Old Bailey trial and Frankie Dettori when he was disciplined for a positive drugs test while riding in France.
It was already known that Chopra would offer no defence to the charges, following his statement last week that he simply could not afford the £50,000 he had been told it would cost to have legal representation. Chopra said that, if the BHA chose to ban him from racecourses, that might be a "useful mechanism" in helping him tackle his gambling addiction. He noted in particular that the BHA does not refund legal costs, even if it is completely defeated, a fact that is likely to have deterred others among the defendants from getting involved, though their absence on day one does not prevent them from expressing a defence later in the hearing.
If found in breach, the most severe punishment they face is a lengthy ban from racecourses and racing stables.
Coppinger, who recently returned to Doncaster Rovers after a loan spell at Nottingham Forest, issued a statement in October to deny the charges, saying he would "welcome the hearing in January to totally clear my name".
Nothing has been heard in public from the third footballer, Mark Wilson, a former Manchester United trainee whose most recent outing was for Gainsborough Trinity in the Blue Square Bet North.
Heffernan is the only defendant who has ever been licensed by the BHA. If he were banned from the sport, that ban would be respected and enforced by other racing authorities around the world.
Sprinter Sacre has not yet frightened away all significant opposition from the Victor Chandler Chase, the highlight of Ascot's card on Saturday. Eight others remain after yesterday's entry stage, including Sanctuaire, Wishfull Thinking and Somersby, who won it last year. Rubi Light, however, will miss the race after suffering a stone bruise.
Cold weather remains a threat to much of this week's racing but Ascot has good prospects of avoiding abandonment, according to the clerk of the course, Chris Stickels. "Temperatures haven't been as bad as we've been forecast for the last couple of nights, so that's a good sign," he said. "It's only just dipped below freezing and we had a light dusting of snow this morning, which has melted and we're at 3C now. It's due to get colder in midweek and it might be -5C on Wednesday morning and Thursday morning, but it should be less cold on Friday and Saturday mornings, around -2C.
"There is a risk, but we got the covers down, all round the course, in good time and I'm pretty positive."