Monday 24 October 2016

Three cheers for bookie-basher Byrnes after Roscommon raid strikes a blow for punters

Published 07/08/2016 | 17:00

Davy Russell and Charles Byrbes after Top of the Town brought up the treble for them on the night to land a gamble. Photo: Healy Racing
Davy Russell and Charles Byrbes after Top of the Town brought up the treble for them on the night to land a gamble. Photo: Healy Racing

Nothing in sport combines elegance, audacity and ingenuity to the same degree as a betting coup like the one Charles Byrnes executed on Tuesday night at Roscommon. Gambles like this are a cross between a work of art and a heist movie. They're beautiful.

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The figure which hit the headlines after the Limerick trainer's treble was the £5 million it's reputed to have cost the bookies. But it was two other figures which best capture the stroke he had managed to pull off.

The first is 3,314/1, which were the odds available on a treble of War Anthem, Mr Smith and the aptly named Talk of the Town at the start of the day. The second is 42-1, which is the price offered on that same treble as War Anthem prepared to set the ball rolling in the Paul Byron Maiden Hurdle. The word was out.

This was quite the trio. War Anthem had been beaten by a total of 139 lengths in his two previous starts for Byrnes. In 11 previous starts Mr Smith had been a combined 496-and-a-half lengths behind the winners. Talk of the Town had managed to win a race previously, at Downpatrick last year, but in two 2016 outings he'd been a total of 51 lengths behind the winners.

Yet by dint of assiduous training, Charles Byrnes managed to raise the performance levels of these horses to enable their memorable Tuesday night hat-trick. His achievement in this regard was obviously recognised by the punters as War Anthem came in from 16-1 to 6-1 on the day, Mr Smith from 14-1 to 7-4 and Talk of the Town from 16-1 to 5-4.

For some reason, the Roscommon stewards felt it necessary to call in Byrnes in connection with what they regarded as an unusual improvement in performance of the first two horses. However, he explained that "the booking of Davy Russell in addition to a complete change of training routine by easing off in his exercise", had done the trick for War Anthem, while Mr Smith had benefited from the addition of blinkers, being ridden more prominently and being raced over a longer distance.

Who can argue with that? It certainly seems to have done the trick and is at least as convincing as, for example, the explanations of Matthew Syed and David Walsh as to why Team Sky have been doing so well in the Tour de France. Notwithstanding, there is still the possibility of a Turf Club inquiry into the improvements of The Roscommon Three.

All right-thinking people will surely hope that no such investigation takes place. The proper reaction to this coup, as to similar efforts by Barney Curley in the past, is to raise a metaphorical glass to its architect and regret, if such is the case, that you didn't hear about it in time.

This scourging of the bookies is a particularly timely one, coming as it does the week after the Galway races, which have for years functioned as a kind of Lough Derg for the punting classes. Imagining the look on the faces of the head honchos of various bookmaking firms as they realised what was transpiring has been a very pleasurable experience for anyone who's ever torn up a betting slip in anger. Which is pretty much everyone who's ever had a bet.

When we're told ad nauseam that 'the bookies don't get much wrong', it's nice to see that they can still be taken to the cleaners in the most spectacular fashion. We particularly love touches like this in Ireland, which is why I suspect that these days more people know the name of Yellow Sam, winner of an obscure race at Bellewstown in 1975, than Bolkonski, which won the 2000 Guineas of that year. They certainly feel much more affection in their hearts for the former.

So three cheers for Charles Byrnes who, last Tuesday night, descended on Roscommon like Errol Flynn as Robin Hood - swooping into King John's castle and humiliating the mighty before making his escape to the cheers of the put-upon peasants. Not too much swashbuckling goes on in the 21st century. We should celebrate it when it does happen.

The next time anyone's planning one of these things, could you let me know? The email address is at the bottom of the column. I'm the soul of discretion.

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