08/03/2006 11:00PM

What a difference a day makes


NEW YORK - The British racing industry was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century on Tuesday when, for the first time in history, all races were drawn on a 48-hour basis.

Actually, it was largely British trainers who were kicking and screaming. They were, and in some cases still are, protesting the idea that declaring final entries 48 hours before a race is run presents a challenge too difficult for their busy minds to overcome. Mark Johnston led the chorus of whiners and moaners, claiming that he could not decide whether to enter both Linas Selection and Luberon in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood, or enter only one of them, or neither of them, on such lengthy notice.

For time immemorial, British trainers have enjoyed a 24-hour entry system that enabled them to wait until the latest possible moment before deciding where to run a horse. That system gave them the opportunity to determine the state of the ground at one track or another and thus send their horse where conditions were most favorable. Now they are saddled with the hardship of making that decision on a 48-hour basis, like every other jurisdiction in the world, save at Ireland's weekday meetings.

Admittedly, British racing is peculiar in its day-to-day structure in that there are frequently races with similar conditions run at different tracks on the same day or on consecutive days. It was easier under the old 24-hour system to place horses, but modern-day racing has priorities that outweigh the daily concerns of a single group of trainers.

British racing is seen in more countries than any other form of the sport. Its product is simulcast in America, Canada, the Caribbean, Germany, South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia, and elsewhere. It is much easier for outlets in those countries to run a successful business, and return more handle to British racing, if they can produce racecards and form for their customers one day before races are run. They have had that luxury where other countries are concerned for decades. Now they have it with Britain as well.

British racing has always lagged behind where innovative ideas are concerned. Starting gates were not used there until 1965, two years after France and 35 years after America. Photo-finish cameras didn't arrive in Britain until 1947, 11 years after they were introduced in the United States. Ontrack race calls were first heard in New York at Belmont Park in 1936, 16 years before the live first call was made in England, at Newmarket in 1952.

Meanwhile, Mark Johnston's complaining may not last much longer. The first race at Goodwood on the first day of the new system went to a horse named Crosspeace, whose trainer is the fast-learning Johnston himself.

Justice denied in Fallon case

Innocent until proven guilty? Or guilty until proven innocent? That is the question.

In the case of Kieren Fallon, guilty until proven innocent. Banned by the Horseracing Regulatory Authority, a branch of the British Jockey Club, from riding in Britain because he has been charged by London police with an attempt to defraud bettors through race-fixing, Fallon is being victimized by a miscarriage of justice that should have every civil rights advocate on the planet taking up arms in his defense.

What the Jockey Club is doing to Fallon is denying his employers the right to hire a man who has not been found guilty of any crime. If Fallon, the six-time champion rider in Britain, were a construction worker charged with having stolen materials from a job site, his employers might or might not fire him. At the same time, other construction companies might want to hire him, especially if he were the best construction worker in the world. Only if he was found guilty after due process might he be barred from working.

To make matters worse, the racing authority has undercut its Fallon decision by allowing trainer Alan Berry, charged with the same offense as the Irish jockey, to continue to ply his trade in Britain until his trial. That decision is based on the fact that Berry rarely runs a horse outside of Britain, and so would lose his main source of income if he were to be suspended in his home country. Fallon, on the other hand, rides with a certain frequency in Ireland, France, America and elsewhere. Is he the victim of a double standard because he has the wherewithal to have carved out an international career for himself? That should have no bearing on the case, but the lords of British racing see things differently.

This is not a case of careless riding where the stewards would be justified in banning a rider for an infraction of the rules. The stewards have not weighed in on the merits of this case at all. The charges against Fallon have been brought by the state, and the laws of the state, i.e., the United Kingdom, hold clearly that a man is innocent until proven guilty.

Fallon should be allowed to ride in Britain until his trial, which may not begin until late 2007. Only if he is found guilty of the charges against him should he be banned form riding anywhere in the world.