Ex-Sunderland striker remains absent from horse fixing hearing

Michael Chopra

Michael Chopra

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FORMER Sunderland striker Michael Chopra has been absent from a 10-day corruption hearing into horse race fixing.

The ex-Black Cat is one of three professional footballers charged with betting-related offences by the British Horse Racing Authority.

Jockey Andrew Heffernan was the only one of the nine defendants to appear at the start of a 10-day corruption hearing on Monday.

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 horse from winning.

Chopra, 29, who played for Sunderland between 2007 and 2009, has already said he would offer no defence to the charges. In a statement last week, he said he could not afford the £50,000 he had been told it would cost to have legal representation.

Chopra, who also played for Newcastle, 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.

The BHA said nine races are at the centre of the investigation, which took place between November 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011.

If found in breach, the most severe punishment Chopra, now playing for Ipswich Town, and his co-defendants could face is a lengthy ban from racecourses and racing stables.

In December 2011, it was announced that Ipswich Town had given Chopra £250,000 to help pay off gambling debts.

Asked how he had felt on learning of the charges, jockey 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.”