New Zealand's champion harness racing driver Blair Orange is one of the horsepeople being interviewed by police after raids around New Zealand into alleged race-fixing.
Orange broke the New Zealand record for wins by a reinsman in a season when he won the national premiership with 232 winners for the season, breaking Dexter Dunn's premiership rein.
At a press conference this afternoon, police said charges and arrests are expected to be made later today after an on-going investigation into race-fixing involving a number of stables.
Police Detective Superintendent Tim Anderson said police have been working with the Racing Integrity Unit since April last year.
Anderson said police executed search warrants in Christchurch, Manawatu and Invercargill and more would be carried out later this week.
Several people will be appearing in court this week, he said.
Police are believed to have gone to the property of Orange's boss, Ken Barron, in Canterbury this morning as part of raids at several stables in Canterbury and Southland, while at least one person, including one who is not a horse trainer, has been questioned in Manawatu.
Orange is believed to be speaking to police.
It is unlikely Orange has been involved in any betting on races himself as such activity is easily traceable but the police investigation, codenamed Operation Inca, would be into whether he participated in any driving in races where results were affected by collusion between himself and other reinspeople. Or whether he profited in any way from other people betting on race in which he was involved.
Races are usually overseen by stewards, who work for the Racing Integrity Unit, which also has its own investigators. The police investigation is said to have been sparked by information supplied by the RIU.
Several of the horsepeople questioned have had their phones and computers seized, which could be so police can investigate betting records, although these are also held by betting agencies such as the TAB and easily obtainable by police.
Christchurch racehorse owner and punter Graham Beirne is also among those whose homes have been raided in the investigation.
"I'm a suspect, put it that way," Beirne told Stuff from Bali, where he is on holiday.
"The police have been to our place this morning but I'm not there. All I have to say is one word: nonsense.
"I don't know where it's coming from. If they are talking race fixing, it's nonsense, " he told Stuff.
Anderson appealed for anyone with information about the race fixing to come forward: "If they have suspicions someone is race fixing or match fixing ..."
The detective said he could not go into any specific details about the allegations due to the investigation being ongoing.
"With any serious crime investigation, which this is, the termination stage is just one stage ... there is still a prosecution stage to go so I would say we are about two-thirds [through].
"We treat race fixing as a very serious offence which is why our police organised crime group has been involved."
Police would be speaking to "a lot of people" and a number of arrests were expected over the coming week.
He said he couldn't speculate on whether the race fixing was more widespread. "In this case we had a certain number of individuals."
Police also wanted to send a strong message that race fixing or fixing the results in any sport would not be tolerated.
Police also visited champion trainer Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen's All Stars Harness Racing stables at Rolleston just outside Christchurch this morning.
Purdon was not extensively questioned or arrested and is not believed to be a suspect in any of the race-fixing allegations.
Purdon told the Herald that he had not been questioned by police.
"They [police] had a look around here but they weren't that interested in me."
Purdon said he had no issue with them looking over his property.
He was unaware that a major investigation had been under way.
Police officers left the property shortly after midday.
"They drove to their main aim, but I'm quite confident … well, they seemed quite happy when they left. I'm quite confident there's nothing there that I need to worry about," Purdon said.
Rasmussen was still being spoken to by police this afternoon, Purdon said.
But he added: "As far as race fixing goes I know there's nothing involved there, but I'm quite comfortable. But as I say, they weren't that interested in me."
Police also visited a property at Woodend Beach, 25km north of Christchurch, this morning, where a number of trainers operate.
The Herald understands police were seen at a property run by trainers John and Robert Dunn.
When spoken to by the Herald this afternoon, Robert Dunn said he'd just arrived in the city. It was a planned trip, he said, and "I just happened to hear things had happened earlier this morning".
While police are still questioning a number of harness racing licence holders it is also suspected non-licence holders are being questioned, almost certainly in relation to betting activities.
While police also searched properties for performance-enhancing drugs, that are often legal but banned in racing, that is not believed to be the main or even major part of today's raids.
Police confirmed that officers had today conducted search warrants at eight properties in Christchurch, one in Invercargill and another in Manawatu.
Several people were now speaking to police.
"Today's warrants were the result of a long-running investigation by the National Organised Crime Group into alleged corruption within the harness racing industry," Anderson said.
He said the investigation began with information supplied by the Racing Integrity Unit.
"Police have been working in partnership with the RIU and other relevant organisations throughout the investigation."
The investigation was ongoing and police expected to provide further details in the coming days, Anderson said.
New Zealand Racing Board chairwoman Glenda Hughes said allegations of race fixing were disappointing but showed "the racing integrity system is working".
"The actions taken today resulted from information received by the Racing Integrity Unit [RIU], an independent body charged with maintaining integrity in the sport," she said.
"That information initiated a co-ordinated and careful investigation between NZ Police and the RIU.
"The value of having an independent integrity body focused on investigating and prosecuting any alleged impropriety is reinforced in this action."
Racing Board chief executive John Allen said: "Those involved in the industry and the Kiwi punters who support it must have confidence in the integrity of the sport.
"I am confident that our integrity systems work and that where alleged breaches of our rules and of criminal law are identified, they are investigated and prosecuted appropriately."