Cur­ley’s coup is ev­er­green up in the Yel­low Sam bar

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Mar­cus Army­tage Rac­ing Cor­re­spon­dent

Ev­ery­one loves a good old-fash­ioned coup, and fresh rel­e­vance has been given to the one that put Bar­ney Cur­ley on the map. Rac­ing has taken place on the Hill of Crock­afotha at Bellew­stown in County Meath since 1726, but I dare say it has not seen many days like June 26, 1975, when Cur­ley, the owner, trainer, phi­lan­thropist and for­mer trainee Je­suit pri­est, or­ches­trated the coup which would set him up for life.

Cur­ley, the king of coup who also made an es­ti­mated £2 mil­lion in ac­cu­mu­la­tor bets when four horses won for him on Jan 22, 2014, had bought a geld­ing called Yel­low Sam and had him trained by Liam

Bren­nan with spe­cific in­struc­tions to win an am­a­teur rid­ers’ hur­dle at Bellew­stown.

To en­sure he was well hand­i­capped, Yel­low Sam was run in sev­eral races over un­suit­able dis­tances be­fore be­ing pre­pared for the am­a­teur race, and while Bren­nan did his bit, Cur­ley put peo­ple in place across Ire­land but, to main­tain se­crecy, with­out telling them the name of the horse.

On the day, Yel­low Sam opened at 20-1. Ob­vi­ously, if the book­ies had got wind of large bets be­ing placed, he would have gone off much shorter, and the rea­son Cur­ley had cho­sen Bellew­stown was be­cause it had only two tele­phone lines; a pub­lic phone box and one owned by Ex­tel, which sup­plied data to bet­ting shops.

The Ex­tel line had met with an un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent so was not work­ing, which left just the phone box. Mean­while, Cur­ley’s friends and ac­com­plices were wait­ing for the nod in bet­ting shops across the land, with sealed in­struc­tions not to be opened un­til they re­ceived a call.

Ten min­utes be­fore the race, Cur­ley called 10 of his friends with in­struc­tions to each ring 10 more, who had be­tween £50 and £300 to place on Yel­low Sam. In all, £15,000, Cur­ley’s life sav­ings, were in­vested.

The fi­nal piece of the jig­saw was to make sure the Bellew­stown phone box was en­gaged, and to this end Cur­ley’s burly friend, Benny

O’Han­lon, went in 25 min­utes be­fore the race, pre­tend­ing to be on a call to a dy­ing aunt in a non-ex­is­tent hospi­tal. The mono­logue to his tragic aunt lasted half an hour.

All the while, book­mak­ers across Ire­land, un­able to contact their on-course coun­ter­parts, tried in vain to lay off their li­a­bil­i­ties. Ap­par­ently un­backed, Yel­low Sam went off at 20-1. De­ter­mined not to arouse sus­pi­cion by be­ing seen on course, Cur­ley hid in an in­field gorse bush to watch Michael Fur­long bring home Yel­low Sam by 2½ lengths. Since noth­ing was il­le­gal about the coup, book­mak­ers were forced to pay out 300,000 punts (£1.5mil­lion in to­day’s money). In some­thing of a two-fin­gered ges­ture to Cur­ley, the book­ies be­grudg­ingly paid the win­nings but in sin­gle notes, which filled 108 bags.

Time is a great healer, and in 2014 a re­fur­bished Bellew­stown named a bar in hon­our of the cel­e­brated Yel­low Sam, with Fur­long, who had only learned about the coup in the fol­low­ing day’s pa­pers, in at­ten­dance. Coro­n­avirus has turned the world on its head in many ways; one irony is that dur­ing the cur­rent re­stric­tions, the stew­ards’ room at Bellew­stown is too small and now they op­er­ate out of the Yel­low Sam bar.

The jour­ney home from York to Lam­bourn for Pyledriver, favourite for Satur­day’s Pertemps St Leger af­ter win­ning the Great Voltigeur last month, was not en­tirely straight­for­ward.

Wil­liam Muir, his trainer who was also driv­ing the horse­box, no­ticed a red light on the dash­board as he set off. He called his break­down cover, to be told that it would be with him “within 3½ hours”. Three hours and 25 min­utes later, it ar­rived.

“Where did you have to come from?” asked Muir, as­sum­ing it was some­where the other side of Manch­ester. “Ten doors down the road,” the me­chanic replied.

Hav­ing looked in the en­gine, he said he could not fix the prob­lem and that, though it was not se­ri­ous, nei­ther was he al­lowed to tell Muir it was safe to drive home, in case the trainer sued his or­gan­i­sa­tion. “I’m not that sort of per­son,” Muir said. “Just tell me it won’t catch fire.”

“Nil chance of that,” said the me­chanic, Muir nursed the lorry home and the un­fazed Pyledriver fi­nally made it to bed at 1.30am.

Stamina should not be a prob­lem on Satur­day.

Big win: Bar­ney Cur­ley got the bet­ter of the book­ies in 1975

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.