Thursday, 21 August 2014

Celebrating a Famous Coup

It will be forty years on Bank Holiday Monday since a group of conspirators executed one of the most famous betting coups in horseracing history – at Cartmel Racecourse. As you might expect, we shall be celebrating the event whilst we are racing this weekend.
The subject of the gamble was a horse called Gay Future, entered for the Ulverston Novices Hurdle by the Scottish permit holder Tony Collins. Cartmel was chosen very specifically – because the communication links between the track and the outside world were poor at best. The odds of horses running at Cartmel were not reported in real-time to the off-course betting shops. This meant that, in an age before mobile phones, the betting market on the racecourse could be manipulated to ensure that Gay Future’s starting price was as long as possible. The syndicate then went about placing their bets in high-street shops throughout the country, in anticipation of an inflated starting price.

In an effort to discourage racegoers at Cartmel from betting on Gay Future, the horse was covered in soap suds, making it appear as though he had sweated up on his way from the stables. Collins had another runner in the same race (Racionzer) and stable staff were instructed to back this horse in preference to Gay Future – so that it appeared he was the better fancied of the pair. Consequently, Gay Future started at the generous odds of 10/1 - before winning easily by two lengths.

Away from the racecourse, the conspirators placed their bets in a series of doubles and trebles (accumulator bets which require two or three horses to succeed) with unsuspecting bookmakers such as William Hill, Mecca and Ladbrokes. Poor old William Hill had only been in business for forty years at the time. This weekend they are celebrating their 80th anniversary; they are much older and wiser now – which is why they have chosen to sponsor the highest quality race ever to have been programmed at Cartmel – the £20,000 William Hill 80th Anniversary Handicap Hurdle on Bank Holiday Monday.
Unbeknown to the off-course bookmakers, the two horses coupled in bets with Gay Future (also trained by Collins) were always intended to be non-runners. This meant that all of the bets rolled on to Gay Future only. The downfall of the entire operation occurred when it transpired that Opera Cloak and Ankerwyke, who were supposed to be running at Southwell and Plumpton respectively, had never even left Scotland. On the advice of the Betting Office Licensees Association (BOLA) many bookmakers declined to pay out.

It was subsequently revealed that the real Gay Future had been prepared for the race in Ireland, while a less useful horse masqueraded as Gay Future at the Collins yard in Scotland - raising further questions from the sports governing body.

The plot was regarded by many as a superbly planned, but ultimately flawed coup. However, in a somewhat surprising turn of events, the conspirators were apprehended by the Police and charged with fraud. The judge, Justice Caulfield, who tried the case commented that he regarded the syndicate’s misdemeanour to be "very much at the bottom end of the scale" and handed out the lowest fine possible.

On Monday we shall be uniting Tony Collins with the two sons of Justice Caulfield - and interviewing them in the Parade Ring before racing commences. I don’t anticipate any massive coups, but I hope think Ballybough Gorta has an interesting handicap mark in the big race sponsored by William Hill.

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