Weekend King Racing



Racing’s Legends

Classic Racing Stories – #1: Bookie’s desperate last stand

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Losing on a weekly basis or having a bad trot is not the exclusive domain of punters – in fact, their old foe the bookmaker has had his share of down times.

Over the past fifty years, bookmakers, like so many punters, have found the going too tough and that the economics of their profession denied them a living. We had one extraordinary situation in the mid-1970s after the last race at Seymour when an enterprising young bookmaker climbed the stairs to the broadcast box. While a commentator was going through the results of the day, the young man interrupted and said:

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‘I’m a little bit short on my payout, you wouldn’t have some folding to get me through?’ It made unusual radio – the bookmaker hadn’t believed that the commentator was on air at the time.

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But one bookmaker in the late 1970s devised a plan that basically evolved around a boom-or-bust theory.

He had endured a tough run during the autumn of that year and it seemed the spate of favourites was never going to end. As the markets went up for the final race at Caulfield – a three-year-old fillies event – the favourite was put at 4–6. The bookmaker immediately went to 4–5 and then he went to even money, and the crowd around him was four and five deep, wanting to back the favourite.

The word spread around the course that the bookmaker was offering good odds on the favourite, and the crowd around the stand grew. With just five minutes of betting to go, the bookie turned the horse into 1–3 and then gathered his staff around him for a conference.

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‘Look, just pack up the sheets and the bags and we’ll get moving before the race,’ he told them. ‘It’s pretty simple – we’ve laid the favourite for a fortune. If it wins we’re stuffed, and if it gets beaten we’ve got the lot.’

So, the team made their way over to Caulfield station and, from platform four, nervously watched the outcome of the final event.

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The bookie again told his staff that he’d deliberately taken on the favourite, believing she was vulnerable.

‘I’ve targeted this filly – I think she’s a bit of a squib but, just in case she does win, there’s an express train due to arrive from the city about five minutes after the race and we’d better be on it,’ he said.

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As the field swung for home, the chestnut filly that the bookie had labelled as ‘heartless’ defied that reputation. At the 200-metre mark, she went from two to six lengths in front – much to the cheering of the punters in the ring.

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A bookmaker who had been fielding next to him recalled the scenes that took place after the race.

‘It was the strangest thing I’ve seen on a racecourse – the queue on the bookie’s stand seemed to stretch for miles. At first, the mood was one of jubilation that they’d snared even money on a horse that should have been 5–1 on. But the giggling and laughing soon gave way to shouting and yelling when they realised that the bookmaker and his staff had disappeared. The bookmaker’s supervisor came up and they harassed him and it turned pretty nasty,’ he said.

Eventually, the bookmakers’ association repaid all of the bets; the bookmaker in question had left on an express train out of town, never to be seen again.

And just for the record, the three-year-old filly was the brilliant Mistress Anne, who went on to win the Oakleigh Plate two weeks later.

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TRAINER Chris Waller has given the strongest indication yet that champion mare Winx could head overseas this year to target feature races at Royal Ascot.

“If she wins the George Ryder by three lengths, and the Queen Elizabeth by two lengths she’ll be on the plane,” Waller said. “She will go if she’s 100 per cent.”

The six-year-old has won 22 consecutive races with her last-start being the 2017 Cox Plate in which she completed a famous hat-trick of victories in Australia’s premier weight-for-age race.

Waller is delighted with how his star mare has returned to the stable in recent weeks.

“She had a gallop this morning and I came back from the Gold Coast to watch it specifically, so I was pretty happy with the way she worked,” he said.

“She’ll have two more gallops and then trial in nine days’ time”

Winx will return to racing in the Apollo Stakes (1400m) at Royal Randwick on February 17.

The 2018 Royal Ascot carnival runs from Tuesday, June 19 through to Saturday, June 23.

Waller hasn’t given any indication which race she is likely to contest if the trip does go ahead, but in all likelihood the race Waller & Winx would target would be the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, which serves as the traditional opening race on the first day (Tuesday, June 19) of the Royal Ascot carnival.

The Queen Anne Stakes is a mile (1609m) race down the famously lengthy Ascot straight & is run under weight-for-age conditions.

The total prize pool for the race is £685,000 (AU$1,196,375.35), with the winner receiving £388,464 (AU$673,200.35).

Let’s hope the legendary mare can stay fit, healthy & in-form so that we may see her conquer Royal Ascot as the legend Black Caviar did.

Best Race Calls of All Time – International




Bryan Martin – 1990 Japan Cup “…Better Loosen Up in the middle is coming with a magnificent run…”


Greg Miles – 2004 Australia Cup “…what a champion….”



Ian Craig – 2000 Golden Slipper “….freakish win…!” 



Mark Shean – 2009 TJ Smith “…..they won’t get him…”



Tom Durkin – 2004 Belmont Stakes “….Smarty Jones enters the stretch to the roar of 120,000 but Birdstone is going to make him earn it today…”


Ian Craig – 1999 Doncaster Handicap “…Sunline simply supreme…”




Bill Collins – 1986 Cox Plate “…the race of the century….”




Ian Craig – 2002 All Aged Stakes “…Sunline we salute you…”




Larry Collmus – 2015 Belmont Stakes “…..the 37 year wait is over…”




Mark Shean – 2011 TJ Smith “…Black Caviar, the best in the world races away…”




Simon Holt – 2012 Diamond Jubilee “…Black Caviar needs the line!!!! He’s easing up!!! Oh he nearly blew it!!!….”




Mark Shean – 2012 Golden Slipper “…..Gai told us months ago….”




Alan Thomas – 2001 Qld Oaks “…Ethereal has come from the tail of the field!!…By golly!…”




Ian Craig – 2004 George Ryder Stakes “…Lonhro in full flight, providing another magnificent spectacle and Lonhro has walked in.”



Greg Miles – 2002 Yalumba Stakes “….excitement rippling around Caulfield now…..Caulfield is erupting..”


Greg Miles – 2005 Melbourne Cup “…but a champion becomes a legend..”




Darren McCauley – 2013 Winterbottom Stakes “….nearly a dead-heat…”




Rick Mackintosh – 2014 Grand Annual “….this is the ‘Bool!! GO HARD OR GO HOME!!!….”




Greg Miles – 2013 William Reid Stakes “…this is brutal power, wrapped in an elegant machine…”




Bryan Martin – 1998 Cox Plate “…the Earth starts to rumble…”




Bill Collins – 1982 Cox Plate “….Kingston Town can’t win….”


RACE CALL: The Greatest Golden Slipper of all time

The Greatest Golden Slipper of all time. Who will win?

If the best ever 16 Golden Slipper winners from the races 60 year history were to compete in a race who would you want to back?

The final field of 16 runners to compete in this phantom race, known as “The Best of the Best Golden Slipper” to be “run” at Rosehill are;

  1. Pierro

  2. Sepoy

  3. Dance Hero

  4. Manikato

  5. Baugette

  6. Vain

  7. Todman

  8. Bounding Away

  9. Luskin Star

  10. Marscay

  11. Pago Pago

  12. Sky High

  13. Sebring

  14. Sir Dapper

  15. Luskin Star

  16. Tontonan


Here’s Ian Craig’s call of the race as he sees it unfolding;




1st- VAIN















16th- SEPOY




golden slipper


joe janiak takeover target.jpeg

It is well documented that when times are tough, the average Aussie looks for something or someone they can look up to, aspire to, live the dream with – because if we don’t have dreams, life can be terribly boring. This tale is just a reminder that racing belongs to the average man on the street and not just to those hanging out in the boardrooms.

The story begins in 1999 at Meringo Stud, near Moruya on the southern coast of New South Wales. A colt by the stallion Celtic Swing, out of a well-bred mare, Shady Stream, hit the ground running. It was an easy decision to syndicate this thoroughbred to three successful businessmen. The boardroom businessmen were all involved in the takeover of Melbourne’s Crown Casino for Kerry Packer, so naming the colt Takeover Target was a logical choice.


The well-respected trainer John Morish, at Randwick, was selected to get their investment ready for the track. As can sometimes be the case, the following two years were full of disappointment. Takeover Target had a problem with his suspensory nerve, which was very painful for the horse and which contributed significantly to him being one very cranky customer.

Because of the injury, there was no chance of a race, so the businessmen decided to cut their losses. Next stop for Takeover Target was a dispersal sale, in 2003.

At the next Inglis Dispersal Sale, there were four bidders. The bidding started at $500 and then escalated to $800; it finally concluded with a cabbie named Joe Janiak, who paid the princely sum of $1250 for the horse. Joe thought at the time that the price he paid for this cranky son of Celtic Swing was a little steep but, nevertheless, what was done was done. Joe and his trusty steed wound their way back to Queanbeyan and to Joe’s home, a caravan.

Takeover Target’s cranky disposition was highlighted the very first day in the stables when he reared, sending Joe packing to the local hospital to get 30 stitches for a head wound. Not a great start.


No-one could possibly imagine that this trip to the hospital was the start of a union that would result in 21 wins and ten placings for 41 starts, with winnings in excess of $6 million across Australia, Great Britain, Singapore and Japan. Here are just some of his Group race wins in Australia and overseas:

• 1st, 2004 – Group 1, Flemington Salinger Stakes

• 1st, 2005 – Group 3, Doomben Summer Stakes

• 1st, 2006 – Group 1, Flemington Lightning Stakes

• 1st, 2006 – Group 1, Flemington Newmarket Handicap

• 1st, 2006 – Group 2, Royal Ascot King’s Stand Stakes, UK

• 1st, 2006 – Group 1, NAKA Sprinters Stakes, Japan

• 1st, 2007 – Group 1, Doomben 10,000

• 1st, 2008 – Group 1, KrisFlyer International Sprint, Singapore

• 1st, 2008 – Group 2, Perth Winterbottom Stakes

• 1st, 2008 – Group 3, Perth AJ Scahill Stakes

• 1st, 2009 – Group 1, Randwick TJ Smith Stakes

• 1st, 2009 – Group 1, Morphetville Goodwood Handicap

Some horses have a preference for particular tracks and conditions, but Takeover Target raced at his peak everywhere and in all conditions. He won on twelve different tracks all over the world. He always gave his best – and all any punter wants is for his horse to put in. ‘Archie’, as he was fondly known, was always in the leading bunch and never let you down. That running style was reminiscent of the great Vo Rogue and Might and Power. To top off this exciting story, there is also something deeply satisfying about cheering on a horse that is owned and trained by a real-life Aussie battler.

Takeover Target has written his name in the annals of Australian history through his ageless ability to win at the highest possible level when many thought that his best was behind him.

To support this ageless theory, it should be known that Takeover Target was the oldest horse on the card on Doncaster Day at Randwick in April 2009. He astounded all and sundry by taking out the TJ Smith Group 1, beating a champion in his own right, the well-credentialed performer Apache Cat.

The crowd erupted that day when ‘Archie’ led them around the turn and just kept on increasing his lead. Joe had a tear in his eye as he admired his champion – nay, the people’s champion. He had always known that the horse could do it, but very few others had believed.

Our great sporting commentator Ken Callander said of Takeover Target on that day, after that win: ‘Well, I’ve never seen anything like him. What a champion.’

Now the drug slur …

joe tt

Joe Janiak’s third Royal Ascot campaign in England with Takeover Target was soured by accusations in the British press that described Takeover Target as ‘the drug runner from Down Under’.

The accusations were made by Mark Johnston, a qualified veterinary surgeon and one of Britain’s leading trainers. He questioned the authorities as to how they could allow this horse to have another stint at the riches of Royal Ascot and why Joe Janiak’s training licence was not suspended.

Johnston was quoted in The Times as saying:

As I understand the rules of racing in this country on drug use, it is an offence to administer a prohibited substance to a horse with intent to affect the racing performance. … It strikes me that Mr Janiak is guilty under those rules and that if I was to admit administering anabolic steroids to one of my horses I would be liable to have my licence to train withdrawn. I cannot, therefore, understand how a horse which has previously tested positive for a prohibited substance and whose trainer has freely admitted administering the drug, can be invited to participate in a race in this country.

This sorry saga began when Takeover Target arrived in Hong Kong in October 2006 to prepare for the HK$14 million Hong Kong Sprint. He had travelled from Japan, where he had recently won the prestigious Sprinters Stakes.

Joe advised the Hong Kong officials that a drug (HPC) had been administered to Takeover Target to assist with his air travel and flight out of Japan. He had been assured by a vet in Japan that the substance would clear out of his system within two weeks.

Minute traces were found in his system on the morning of the Hong Kong Sprint, so stewards had no option but to insist that Joe withdraw his horse, and they also slapped a HK$200,000 fine on him. Despite all the assurances given by veterinarians, these were the strict rules of racing and they had to be adhered to.

In Australia at that time, the drug known as HPC was not a banned substance. It was widely reported to have a calming effect on horses, as well as being a mood stabiliser and appetite stimulant. Reflecting on Mark Johnston’s unprecedented outburst before Royal Ascot, we don’t suppose it had anything to do with Takeover Target being victorious over his runner in Japan’s prestigious Sprinters Stakes the weekend prior.

Mark Johnston’s outburst was viewed with great suspicion by Australians. Australians are still vehemently against anything that smells of a class structure. We do not accept our culture being contaminated by pomp and ceremony, nor do we accept any comment that hints of class distinction, especially when it is seen as a thinly veiled attempt to deride one of our great champions.

Joe Janiak and Takeover Target: the people’s champions.

Aussie Punting Legend’s: Eddie ‘The Fireman’ Birchley

Eddie ‘The Fireman’ Birchley, occupations were Fireman, Investor and then Pro Gambler

Sometimes an investor will take a large gamble that supplies a return so spectacular that the investor can fall into a trap of thinking that he can work the same magic with any speculative endeavour.

This mental shortcoming would appear to have seriously inflicted the thinking of one Edward Albert Granville Birchley, aka. Eddie “the fireman” Birchley.

Eddie Birchley was the recipient of a substantial windfall as the result of a risk he undertook by investing in some Gold Coast beachfront property.

Up until that time, he had lived a somewhat pedestrian existence as a member of the Brisbane Fire Department. This investment was made in the times before Queensland’s Gold Coast became the international tourist attraction destination for which it now commands rich real estate prices.

Eddie did so well in this real estate venture that he was able to resign the position he had held for 17 years with the fire department to pursue his lifelong ambition to be, of all things, a professional punter.

Unlike many others who obtained this storybook opportunity of a life of leisure, only to recklessly throw it away in short order, Eddie Birchley approached punting with the same methodical approach he applied to his fitness regimen and his short stint as a professional boxer.

Just as he committed himself to swimming and jogging, much of it over considerable distances, on a daily basis, Eddie Birchley took his time studying the racing market before deciding upon his strategy of backing short priced favourites. He patiently waited for the ideal situation rather than throwing his bank around shotgun fashion.

When he finally decided the opportune moment had arrived, Eddie went to the Eagle Farm racecourse and staked his entire fortune, which was in 1974 a considerable sum of $40,000 on a sprinter by the name Tod Maid.

When the horse took the post, Eddie had the second instance of great good fortune serving to cultivate the notion in his mind that he had the golden touch. Birchley would only bet on horses that were short priced favourites, mostly odds on. The shorter the price the better, Birchley would say.

His philosophy was….. It’s good value to back a horse at 3/1 on when you know that the right odds are 100/1 on.

When it comes to racing, however, horses often show total disdain for odds, form, trainers, jockeys and previous results. This fact was soon to become apparent to Eddie.

As always, he bided his time and looked for the sure thing upon which to place large punts. The bright lights of Sydney beckoned, where Eddie Birchley, having enjoyed some success in Brisbane subsequent to the large payday he had received for his Tod Maid punt, had decided to test his mettle.

Birchley wagered the staggering sum of $105,000 on Danish Dancer, spreading the bet amongst bookmakers Terry Page, Big Bill Waterhouse and Lennie Burke, only to see Sheil Sail down Danish Dancer.

Eddie then put another $60,000 on when he saw Sheil Sail running two weeks later at Randwick, perhaps thinking that Sheil Sail was obligated to help Birchley recover from the Danish Dancer punt. Sheil Sail did not share this conviction and ran poorly.

Birchley then backed a horse named Princess Thalia that same afternoon to the tune of $70,000. Princess Thalia went down to defeat, which was the source of Birchley’s eventual demise as a punter.

Now lapsed into bitterness over his losses, Eddie Birchley threatening to expose corruption amongst Sydney bookmakers as being responsible for his losses. He seems to have dropped the matter before submitting anything by way of proof.

It was Sires Produce Stakes hosted by the VRC in 1975 that Eddie Birchley really hit home. He arrived at the Flemington Racecourse to bet on the Blue Diamond Stakes winner Lord Dudley.

Eddie backed this horse like it had never been backed before. He kept placing bets on the Bart Cummings trained two year old and the bookmakers kept taking his money whilst shortening the price on every bet. When the odds on Lord Dudley reached to 1/10 the bookies discovered that their betting boards could go no lower and they realised that Birchley hadn’t finished betting yet.

The bookmakers then started writing the price in pencil in a blank space on their odds boards. At the time of the jump, Lord Dudley was as short as 1/15.

With Roy Higgins in the saddle, Lord Dudley won convincingly and never gave Birchley any cause for alarm, winning the race by two lengths.

Unfortunately though for Eddie, he started to lose more times than he won, so his trips to the tracks became more and more infrequent.

Subsequent to his brief day in the sun as a professional punter, by the late ’70s Birchley slipped into obscurity. He was interviewed by a journo in 2004, which would have placed him at around 73 years of age.

Time seems to have made him sanguine regarding his punting exploits and he seems to have maintained his lifestyle of endurance swimming and jogging to the extent that he was enjoying robust health for a man of his advanced age.

The story of Eddie “the fireman” Birchley is an oft-repeated one in the annals of racing history.

Flamboyant punts, collusion betwixt bookmakers, connections and riders, and thoroughbreds that inexplicably fail to honour form have always been part of the game, one we would all do well to remember when the urge to, “…make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss…” rears its head in our thinking.


Throughout the 1950s and 1960s it seemed that stewards and racing authorities were facing a losing battle against the doping of well-fancied horses—mainly at metropolitan meetings where betting possibilities were far in excess of those available at the provincial tracks—but they grimly held on to the belief that the feature races were still immune from that insidious practice. That all changed in 1969 when the raging hot Melbourne Cup favourite was ‘got at’.

big philou 1.jpg

In 1969 Big Philou, trained by Bart Cummings, had been heavily backed to win the Caulfield Cup–Melbourne Cup double. After winning the first leg at Caulfield after a very controversial protest, the doubles bookmakers had liabilities running into millions. He bolted in the Caulfield Cup and many, including master trainer Bart Cummings thought the horse only needed to show up  to complete the big cups double. Bart rates it the most confident he’d ever been about any single one of his Melbourne Cup runners.

big philou 2.jpg

On Cup morning, staff at Bart Cummings’ Flemington stables noticed that Big Philou was not its normal self, but the horse was taken to the course without a great deal of concern. As the day progressed, the horse suffered further bouts of scouring and its condition worsened rapidly.

After an inspection by Victoria Racing Club veterinary surgeons, the horse was sensationally withdrawn from the Melbourne Cup just 39 minutes before the start of the race. It had been the raging hot 2/1 ($3) favourite. Max Presnell, writing later in the Sydney Morning Herald, said, ‘Bart Cummings still rankles over Big Philou and the 1969 Melbourne Cup, a perfect example of the race being a major target for corruption’.

Cummings maintains to this day that he was more confident about Big Philou going into the 1969 Cup than any other of his 12 victories. Champion jockey Roy Higgins was of the same opinion, telling Cummings, ‘You’ve no idea how good this horse feels. We’ll probably never get him as good as he is today’.

Cummings recalled that Big Philou’s strapper, Ron ‘Smokey’ Dawson, was the first to notice that something wasn’t right with the horse, which was hanging its head low, scouring and running a temperature.

By the time Cummings reached the stalls the horse had deteriorated further. ‘I’ll never forget the terrible trouble the horse was in’, he recalled. ‘He was exploding with diarrhoea and writhing in pain.’

Stewards had no option but to immediately order the scratching of Big Philou, saving bookmakers a fortune.

Subsequently, Big Philou tested positive to Danthron but had been given ‘too much and it made him ill’ and it was not long until rumours started to gain momentum around the track as to who was behind the doping. Bart Cummings certainly had his suspicions. ‘For a brief period I had employed Les Lewis, a shifty, unreliable character with flaming red hair’, Cummings related. ‘He was an odd bod and I didn’t like the look of him. If you can pick a horse, you can pick a human …’

Big Philou’s jockey, Roy Higgins, was appalled by what had taken place: ‘Now the horse could have collapsed. If it was another 20 minutes down the line, that horse could have collapsed and brought half the field down, killed me, killed others, killed horses. You’ve got these evil human beings out there, that would do that to a poor animal, just for the thought of an illegal dollar. If I ran into the guy, I’d spit on him.’

Lewis was charged by the police. He beat the Big Philou rap but he went to the well once too often and was caught the following autumn trying to nobble another Cummings horse, King Pedro, in the hours before the Duke of Norfolk Stakes.

Many years later, dying of cancer, Les Lewis signed a statutory declaration that not only had he doped Big Philou in the early hours of Cup morning but he had also got at Tails, which had eventually started favourite in the race. Lewis conceded that he had been paid $10,000 for the deed. ‘Money was speaking all languages which it always has. And you get a thousand dollars waved in front of you when you are only getting a dollar an hour. It’s a lot of money to get put in your hand. A lot, and you’re willing to take that risk for it.’

Les Lewis

According to television program The Track, it was revealed that during the original police investigation Lewis had made a number of phone calls to business numbers associated with bookmaker Bill Waterhouse, although there was no evidence that Lewis had ever spoken to him.

‘When they, the police, investigated, they cleared me’, protested Waterhouse. ‘I wasn’t involved, I hadn’t laid the damn thing but that didn’t stop the witch-hunt and my name was just bandied around as though I was.’ Was Waterhouse the backer of the doping scandal? We’ll never know but one thing can certainly be said for sure, when trouble was in the air the Waterhouse’s were never far away…..


On June 26, 1975, Irish professional gambler, horse trainer, rock band manager and philanthropist Barney Curley pulled off one of the most famous betting coups in all of sports betting history. With careful planning and skilful execution, Curley and his compatriots won just over IR£300,000 (or about $2.6 million today) on the “slow but steady” mostly unknown horse named Yellow Sam.

Curley’s father, Charlie, had been a grocer before sinking deeply into debt via gambling on dog racing. Attempting a last ditch effort to get out of debt, he placed a large bet on a dog that had previously been made to run badly to lengthen his odds in his next race.  Unfortunately for Charlie, in that next race Charlie bet big on, the dog slipped and then died mid-race.  He lost everything. Seeing his father reduced to ruin by the ‘punt’ spurred Curley Jr on the beat the ‘bastard’ bookies whom he despised everything about.

Two years of Barney and his father working double shifts at a plastics factory finally resulted in the family’s debts being paid off, and Barney entering seminary.  It was here that he was introduced to horse racing. After a year-long bout with tuberculosis, he gave up plans to enter the priesthood, though remained heavily religious.

A series of odd jobs later, he found his niche where his father had so failed; but rather than betting on dogs, he picked horses. He stated that he regarded each victory “as some kind of retribution for what had happened to my father… before.” And that he does it to “Beat the system, you know, beat those bookmakers, those smart-arses…”

This brings us to the betting coup that put Curley on the map.

While he was well known at this point among bookies for a small string of relatively large victories, it was nothing compared to what he had in store for them in 1975.  Curley, who owned the horse in question, had him specially trained to run in an obscure National Hunt race (think hurdles and ditches like National Velvet) at Bellewstown, Ireland, where the jockeys were primarily amateurs.

Bellewstown had been chosen specifically because at this time it had only two telephone lines running to the track – one public and one private (for bookies). This is significant since at this time those telephones were the only contemporaneous communication between off-course bookies (who were taking bets), and the course bookies who determined the “starting price” (the odds that a horse would win).

In order to make the odds more favourable for Curley’s bet and lessen Yellow Sam’s handicap at the same time, allowing him to run lighter in the race, Curly ran him in several previous races in very poor conditions and always instructed the jockey to restrain the horse, ‘Sam’ never finished above eighth place. The plan worked, and Yellow Sam’s “starting price” was put at 20-1. He also got to run with a lighter load (reportedly as much as 10 kg less than many of Sam’s chief rivals in the race).

Of course, the 20-1 figure can change, depending on the betting, and if the course bookies were aware that large amounts were being bet on Yellow Sam (or that Curley was behind it), the odds would have changed dramatically. Unfortunately for the bookmakers, on the day of the race, there was a serious communication breakdown.

Completely orchestrated by Curley, “somehow” the private line was disabled. (It was later rumoured that the line was cut, though previously Curley had been involved in another communications breakdown scheme where he managed to convince a British Telecom engineer to kill the phone lines to the racetrack in Thirsk, resulting in Curley netting a cool £80,000 after betting on a 14-1 shot.) However he did it this time, the only communication between the betting houses and the course bookies was now the single public telephone.

About a half an hour before the race began, Curley’s friend, Benny O’Hanlon, described by Curley as “a balding, heavily built kind of fellow, a tough sort that you wouldn’t want to get into an argument with” took over the phone booth, pretending to have a telephone conversation with a dying aunt. Apparently a good actor, or perhaps everyone present was just too intimidated to try to force him off the phone, they all waited sympathetically while he carried on his conversation. He, of course, continued talking until the race started.

Concurrently, off the course, Curley had friends, colleagues and mere acquaintances all stationed to place bets of between £50 – £300 at betting parlours across the country. To help ensure word of the scheme didn’t get out, Curley gave them all sealed instructions that were to only be opened once they received a phone call. About ten minutes before the race was to start, Curley set chain of phone calls in motion, calling a handful of accomplices, who in turn called the rest. Altogether, Curley had them bet just over £15,000 on Yellow Sam to win.

After making his call, he quickly headed over to Bellewstown, arriving just in time to watch the race.

Yellow Sam won by two and a half lengths.

After Yellow Sam’s victory, as there was nothing illegal about the “coup” (other than, perhaps, disabling the telephone line), the bookies had to pay-up. But to show their irritation, many paid him in single notes and even coins, resulting in 108 bags containing a total of just over IR£300,000.

As a result of the coup, Irish bookmakers changed their rules so that any bet over £100 had to be placed more than 30 minutes before the race.

As for Curley, he used the funds to expand his little enterprise, buying horses and continuing to bet on races, including pulling off several more big coups. Most notably, he recently orchestrated his most ambitious scheme yet, betting big on not just one relatively low ranked horse to win, but four horses to all win in a single day in a compounding all-up bet. Three of the horses he owned, and the fourth he was closely connected with.

The whole thing took years to put together to find the perfect horses who, for various legitimate reasons, had all performed poorly leading up to the races in question and had been significantly undervalued by the bookmakers. (If the poor performance in previous races is for nefarious reasons, major trouble ensues for the individual orchestrating that kind of affair.) The horses in question also had to each be running specific races which would maximise their individual strengths given the conditions of the day at each race track. In the end, Curley chose Agapanthus at Brighton, Savaronola and Sommersturm in two different races at Wolverhampton, and Jeu De Roseau at Towcester.

Three of the four horses won, reportedly netting Curley around £3.9 million (about $6 million). (The bookies in question claimed it was drastically more than that, though they have a propensity to exaggerate in such things to entice others to bet in the future.)  Had the fourth horse won, the total would have reportedly been about five times what Curley ultimately won.

As to what Curley has done with all the money over the years and why he continues to bet (he managed to win another £2 million in 2014, though the details of how he pulled that one off are still scant), he stated, “I don’t have much regard for money. It was always the challenge – nothing else.”

The fact that he lives a mostly middle-class existence in his day-to-day life seems to back up the notion. But he’s not just sitting around with huge sums in the bank in his semi-retirement. He mostly focuses his winnings and time today on a charity he started in 1997, Direct Aid for Africa, where “Every penny of every pound donated… is put where it’s needed most. Those who help administer the charity or are involved in facilitating any of its projects do so entirely at their own expense. DAFA works predominantly in Zambia through a range of projects focusing on healthcare, education, and self-help,” with the goals of giving “underprivileged children the opportunity of obtaining an education,” help “support community based economic development projects,” and “help the terminally ill die with dignity.”

He stated of the motivation behind his charitable work, “In racing, people always want to get on your arm… The people giving their lives out there, they don’t want anything off you. And once you’ve been out, it draws you back – those children with their big brown eyes looking up at you, with nothing to eat.” And that when he meets his maker, he feels that, “The big thing He’ll be looking out for is how did we treat our fellow human beings?”

Great Aussie Horse Racing Betting Rorts

The payout queue, all welcome

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In the 1970s, when the betting rings were still vibrant and liquid, large cash bets were not uncommon with rails bookmakers.

A cunning entrepreneur worked out a way to defraud bookies with little risk of exposure.

The punter would stand on the public side of the betting ring, close to one of the big rails bookmakers with his nose buried in the form guide. He was calmly waiting for a big cash bet to be made on a short-priced favourite. If the bookie called $6000 to $4000 a particular horse, the punter would immediately step in and have $60 to $40 the same horse, with the bookie hand-writing the bet on the very next ticket to be issued.

The punter would then race outside to his car in which he had a small printing apparatus, and print off the bookmaker’s ticket with the preceding number to his own ticket—the same number that was on the ticket of the big bet.

Each ticket has the three letter code for the day printed on it and he was able to reproduce that code on his tickets. He also had the style and colour of writing that the bookmaker used, and reproduced that on the forged ticket to make it appear absolutely genuine.

If the horse won, he was first in the queue to collect, pocketing the $10,000 and disappearing before the punter with the legitimate ticket presented it to the payout staff.

Most rails bookmakers used different staff on the bag taking bets from those paying out, and the identity of this punter, who successfully plied his trade for six years, was never known to the payout staff on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Police received ongoing reports of this scheme but the punter kept well ahead of the law by striking sporadically in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and the Gold Coast as well as on the Melbourne tracks.


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Legendary professional punter Stephen Fletcher was notorious for ‘beating the system’.

The TAB introduced a new bet type in the 1990s called the Mystery Six, which operated across the three codes on the last six races although clearly the Saturday metropolitan race meeting created the greatest interest.

The numbers were random and entirely computer generated in a lotto-style bet but after many weeks of the bet not going off, interest began to dwindle.

The TAB then made the decision that they would let the bet jackpot for another four weeks and then allow four or five winning tickets to be generated so as to clear the bet out of the system.

No winning tickets had been generated before this decision as the numbers supposedly selected at random by the TAB computer were weighed heavily towards outsiders based on Friday’s early win pools for each race.

One punter who recognised this undisclosed situation was Steve Fletcher.

He waited until the pool was nudging $1 million and then he and his cohorts struck. They outlayed enough money on the early Friday pools on the genuine outsiders in each race so that they became, for the time, the favoured runners. This was done for as little as $200 to $300 per race.

Then, on the Saturday they took Mystery Six combinations to the value of $200,000 covering all the combinations of horses with genuine winning chances. By the time the second last race had been run, they had the only twelve tickets remaining and got the entire pool to themselves.

Steve Fletcher organised similar stings on the greyhound and trotting Mystery Sixes, getting both as well, which netted them a further $1.5 million from the TAB that had deliberately been making it very difficult for the punters to win.

The bet type was shelved soon after.



People have come up with many ways of beating the handicapping system. At the turn of the last century there was one method known as ‘flying the pigeon’. A 1936 article in The Queenslander tells of the practice used in that state in the early part of the twentieth century:

Many a betting coup was brought off with it until the gradual tightening of racing regulations eliminated its operation. ‘Flying the Pigeon’ meant that a horse carrying, say, 9 stone [57 kg], went out for the race carrying that weight, but when ‘the pigeon’ was flown it carried as much less weight as ‘the pigeon’ represented. ‘The pigeon’ (usually 141b [6.3 kg] of lead) was placed in a bag, or some such convenient receptacle, with tapes for convenient hanging. The jockey (who had to be a party to the scheme) went to scale with it concealed in his gear or under his jacket. In the preliminary he would gallop his horse to the back stretch of the course and pull up to a walk. ‘The pigeon’ would be released from its hiding place and hung on a post or anything else that was convenient.

The horse and rider would then proceed to the post and compete under the greatly reduced weight. With the race over the rider would send his mount over to where ‘the pigeon’ as waiting. He would gather it, safely stow it away again, and return to scale to weigh in correctly.

It was claimed that the operation of ‘Flying the Pigeon’ achieved a big percentage of successful results, particularly in the old days of night racing under the lights at Woolloongabba, but like all other nefarious practices it also brought the odd reversal of fortune for its perpetrators. One such instance was associated with a meeting at Eagle Farm. A horse, under 9.0 [57 kg], had run an unwanted second in a mile race on the first day of a two-day meeting and, as he was running against the same horses under similar conditions on the second day, those associated with him saw ‘an unbeatable certainty’ if ‘the pigeon’ could be flown.

The scheme was put to a big punter of the day and he agreed to facilitate the action and threw his cards in for a big win. The jockey was then secured as a party to the scheme. Everything went off smoothly as planned except for one thing, the horse wanted no part of the rort. It had been backed for an absolute fortune and despite carrying 14 pounds [more than 6 kg] less than its stipulated weight after ‘the pigeon’ had been flown, the horse put in a shocker and failed to run a place. The schemers were left lamenting and all they could find in their pockets were their fingers; perhaps they had overlooked the fact that on the first day the track was heavy as a result of rain, which apparently suited the horse, whereas on the second day the going was firm and fast.

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