Wednesday 21 August 2019

John Daly: 'The day the little guy beat the bookies'

Stock photo: AFP/Getty Images
Stock photo: AFP/Getty Images

John Daly

I'm planning on hitting the Galway Races at the end of the month, a bucket list promise to myself long overdue.

In search of a few tips, I linked up with a horsey veteran, clinking our glasses in the blissful evening sun this weekend. The talk meandered, as it often does in these circumstances, to great horses and memorable moments on the sacred racing turf. As he was a minor player in the famous Gay Future coup, staged 45 years ago this August bank holiday, the tale unfolded in perfect sync with a setting sun.

As gambling 'strokes' go, it was planned and executed with one essential aim - to shatter the myth that the bookies always win, and that the 'little guy' could sometimes beat the system. The cast of characters included a gang dubbed 'the Cork mafia', a pair of horses similar in most respects except their speed, a score of extremely disgruntled British turf accountants, and a multitude of happy punters who hit the jackpot at odds of 10 to 1.

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Tony Murphy, a gold Rolls Royce-driving self-made Cork millionaire, as famous for getting his hands dirty on a building site as his love of horses, was the brains behind 'the crock of gold' scam.

Central to the scheme were two physically similar but athletically very different horses, and their equally diverse trainers. The real Gay Future was trained in Tipperary by the highly regarded Edward O'Grady, while the stalking horse was stabled at a poorly regarded yard in Ayrshire - also registered duplicitously as Gay Future to throw gallop-watchers off the scent of what was to come.

Also crucial was the choice of the remote Cumbrian track at Cartmel which did not operate a 'blower' system - a communication network used by UK bookmaking firms to chart the betting sentiment between headquarters and the numerous race meetings across the country.

The only public phone at Cartmel was also deliberately kept occupied by the plotters throughout the day, another hedge to render the outside world oblivious to any warning signs.

Having headquartered themselves at Kensington's Tara Hotel, the 'Murphy mafia' fanned out across London placing hundreds of £5 and £10 bets - each armed with a copy of the London A-Z map as well as several thousand pounds.

Right up to the last minute, the pantomime at the racecourse continued with Gay Future's legs covered in soap flakes - a ruse to prompt an unhealthy 'sweaty' look.

Jockey Tim Jones, the reigning Irish amateur, added his own touch of theatre by feigning continual difficulty in mounting the saddle.

In the end, Gay Future romped home by 15 lengths. True estimates of the winning bonanza were never revealed - but a figure of £300,000 is consistently rumoured, ensuring a payout of anything up to €10m in today's money.

Too late in smelling this equine rat, the UK bookies refused to pay out, with the case ending up in Preston Crown Court. Justice Caulfield, a racing fan, praised Murphy as "a true sportsman who must be admired for coming over to this country and facing the jury. It would be absurd to classify you as a fraudulent man."

However, with anti-Irish sentiment around the time running high due to the Troubles in the North, the jury brought in a guilty verdict. Murphy always maintained it was never really about the money: "Our real crime was that the Paddies, as they like to call us, fooled them by proving too clever for their big bookmakers. Even worse to their mind was the fact that we didn't look like Paddies and that was why they didn't let us get away with it."

If there's any similar scheme planned for Galway this year, I'm ready and willing to play my part . . .

Irish Independent

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