It’s a little under 50 years since Barney Curley pulled off one of the most audacious and well-orchestrated horse racing gambles ever seen in Britain or Ireland. The legendary punter pocketed £2 million in today’s money from his Yellow Sam coup at Bellewstown in 1975. And while they may not always be in Curley’s league, there have been some equally satisfying bookie bashings in the years since. So sit back and enjoy five horse racing gambles that really stung the bookies.
Horse Racing Gambles
The Full Monty
Monty’s Pass managed to land a huge gamble for his connections on the biggest stage of them all in 2003: The Grand National. The horse was owned by the Dee Racing Syndicate, headed by bingo hall owner Mike Futter. They had been advised by trainer Jimmy Mangan to back their horse after he finished second in the Topham Trophy. Of course, they heeded his advice and ploughed in at all odds down from 66-1 to a starting price of 16-1. Monty’s Pass went on to storm home by 12 lengths in the hands of Barry Geraghty, netting his owners £1 million-plus. “Not a bad day’s work,” confessed Mike Futter after the race.
The 50p Millionaire
Everybody loves an accumulator, but maybe nobody more so than Fred Craggs. The Yorkshire man became Britain’s first betting shop millionaire in 2008 thanks to a 50p eight-horse acca. The bet, placed at odds of 2,800,000/1 with William Hill, involved eight horses running at various tracks throughout the day. Incredibly, all eight of his picks went on to win, including the aptly named A Dream Come True. It should have returned £1.4 million, but Craggs only received £1 million due to William Hill capping his winnings. “I lost 10p on this one because I only needed 40p to get the limit up,” he said after. “That was an extravagance.” His life-changing acca has been described as “the most amazing bet ever place since betting shops were made legal in 1961”.
Stable Lad Luck
The 2012 Cheltenham Festival was a week to remember for trainer Nicky Henderson with a record seven wins in total. But it was a member of his staff who grabbed the headlines thanks to a remarkable ante-post gamble. Shrewd stable lad Conor Murphy placed a £50 bet on five of the yard’s winners at hefty prices in November 2011. In a story fit for Hollywood, actor James Nesbitt’s Riverside Theatre completed the bet following the successes of Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Bobs Worth, and Finians Rainbow. The five-timer is believed to have bagged Murphy a cool £1 million. “It’s absolutely wonderful, he’s such a lovely lad,” said Henderson. “I wish I’d known about it – I wouldn’t have minded making a million quid.”
Another Curley Coup
In 2014, four trainers, all with close links to Barney Curley, sent horses out at Lingfield, Catterick and Kempton. The four runners were returning from lengthy lay-offs of up to 700 days and had collectively been priced at 13,000/1 to win overnight. Needless to say the quartet of Eye Of The Tiger, Seven Summits, Indus Valley, and Low Key romped home, costing bookmakers an estimated £2 million in the process. It had all the hallmarks of a Curley coup, but he didn’t admit his involvement until three years later. “It’s over now, we’ve done it – it was very satisfying,” he said.
The Roscommon Raid
Charles Byrnes has pulled off many successful coups over the years with perhaps his greatest feat coming in 2016. That’s when the Irish trainer and jockey Davy Russel landed a monster treble at Roscommon races. The winning trio of War Anthem, Mr Smith and Top Of The Down had been available at combined odds of over 3,000/1 earlier in the day. But all three runners were backed down by punters and the treble at starting prices was just 42/1. Bookmakers estimated the hat-trick cost the industry more than £1m. Bookies well and truly bashed.
When horse racing gambles fall flat…
Bookmakers escaped a £10 million hit when a big-priced treble was foiled at the final leg last year. The monster gamble saw three horses from three yards with close links backed at huge prices overnight. BetVictor head of trading Chris Poole described it as their “worst nightmare”. And a massive payout looked to be on the cards as Fire Away and Blowing Dixie won easily to complete the first two legs of the treble. However, Gallahers Cross was turned over in the final leg at Musselburgh and bookies breathed a collective sigh of relief. Gamble foiled.
The horse racing gamble that never was
Just a few weeks later David Jeffreys was unknowingly the subject of a similar gamble. Five of his horses received a mysterious surge of support to shorten dramatically in price. The coup could have hit the bookies for a seven-figure sum – the only problem being not even one of the five horses won. In fact, The Gold Bug was a non-runner, Getaman finished last, Not Now Seamus was pulled up while Perfect Predator and Blood Eagle could only manage ninth and third-place finishes respectively. Some believe that it was all actually a specially hatched plan to shorten their prices before backing them to lose.
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