Footballers Chopra, Coppinger & Wilson banned from horse racing

Horse racing

Three footballers and jockey Andrew Heffernan have been given lengthy bans from racing after a corruption inquiry.

Ipswich's Michael Chopra and ex-Manchester United player Mark Wilson were given 10-year bans.

Heffernan is suspended for 15 years and Doncaster's James Coppinger for three years for breaching racing's rules.

They were among nine found guilty in an investigation by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) into gambling on horses to lose.

Bans totalling 70 years were given and BHA spokesman Adam Brickell said "an elaborate network of corruption had been identified and successfully prosecuted."

The nine races at the centre of the investigation, in which Heffernan's beaten mounts were laid to lose on betting exchanges, took place between 1 November 2010 and 31 March 2011.

Chopra, who has admitted to having a gambling problem, said he would not attend last week's hearing, which was scheduled to last 10 days, but was concluded in four.

He and the other footballers were found to have placed bets using inside information provided by Heffernan.

In some cases, thousands of pounds were staked. While Wilson made more than £14,000 profit from four bets, he also lost £12,122 in one wager when a horse he backed to be unplaced actually finished second. And similarly, Coppinger lost £1,295 from his one bet.

Heffernan, 24, was charged in relation to his riding of three horses - Wanchai Whisper (15:25 at Lingfield, 28 January 2011), Gallantry (19:20 at Kempton, 2 February 2011) and Silver Guest (13:55 at Lingfield, 9 February 2011).

A disciplinary panel ruled the jockey, who now races in Australia, did not ride the horses on their merits to obtain the best finishing position possible.

And he also communicated "to one or more betting exchange account holders information relating to the prospects in the race of that horse".

In addition to Chopra, 29, Coppinger, 31, Wilson, 33, and Heffernan, five "unlicensed individuals" were also found to have used inside information.

Chopra's agent Yogesh Joshee (five years), Paul Garner (12½), Kelly Inglis (four), Douglas Shelley (eight) and Pravin Shingadia (three) were all banned from racing.

The suspensions apply to racecourses and training yards, and prohibit any dealings with licensed individuals, which includes jockeys, trainers, owners and stable staff.

Winger Coppinger, who denied any corruption, is back at Doncaster after a loan spell with Nottingham Forest.

Michael Chopra
Chopra says he has extensive debts and could not afford to defend himself

Former Cardiff City striker Chopra, Garner, Joshee, Shelley and Wilson - who now plays for Conference North side Gainsborough Trinity - also offered bribes to Heffernan, the BHA said.

Inglis, a one-time girlfriend of Heffernan, offered to take a bribe or bribes from Chopra, Garner, Joshee, Shelley and Wilson.

Garner placed lay bets - betting on a horse not to win - on horses trained by Alan McCabe, when he was working as a stable employee for the trainer.

Chopra said before the inquiry it would cost £50,000 to defend himself which he could not afford because of extensive debts, and he would welcome a ban from racing.

"As of this year, I've voluntarily excluded myself from all betting institutions from where I live in Ipswich in order to help me fight this illness," he said.

The striker told investigators he placed a bet on Silver Guest to lose because "he overheard a couple of people he did not know in a branch of Ladbrokes in Cardiff saying that they did not think it would win."

In written reasons for their verdicts, the panel said: "That may seem a comical explanation, but it was a lie nevertheless, as the texts and a wealth of other evidence show."

An Ipswich spokesman said the case was a private matter between Chopra and the BHA.

"He has nothing further to add to that statement at this stage and wants to concentrate on an important game at Bristol City at the weekend," he said.