Monday 20 November 2017

Meet the maverick gambler who bets millions... and feared McGregor v Mayweather would be a fix

Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

He has won and lost millions in a remarkable life built around a gambling obsession, but that startling statistic only tells part of the Harry Findlay story.

This is the tale of a charismatic wheeler dealer who saw his £2.5million (€2.8m) bet on New Zealand to win the 2007 rugby World Cup go up in smoke, the maverick who has spent time in jail when he was just 21 and went on to be a winning owner in the Irish greyhound derby and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

By anyone’s standards, Findlay has a remarkable tale to story and when you meet the man behind the legend, you quickly appreciate that this is no ordinary punter.

Harry is a brash, loud, competitive chancer who has always been a sports fanatic first and a full-time gambler second and he is in his element when he is talking about himself and his wonderfully entertaining autobiography, Gambling For Life.

As he sat down with the Independent.ie for an exclusive interview, it was hard to know where to start questioning a character who has crammed more into his life than any of us, but Harry didn’t need any encouragement to take a led in our conversation and he barely drew breath in our half an hour together.

“First of all, it is absolutely absurd to think I have won and lost £20million (€22.6m) over the course of my life and even if that is true, it is not quite what it seems,” he begins.

“For one, I have not lost the £20million (€22.6m) gambling and I’m very keen to point that out. The money I have lost was all down to getting involved with businessmen who sold me visions that turned out to be bulls***.

“The reality is that throughout my life of gambling, I’ve only ever had one losing year since 1989 and that was 1997.

“If I have three losing months it is a catastrophe, but to end the year losing was just terrible and thankfully, it has never been repeated.”

Jailed at the age of 21 for credit card fraud, Findlay’s life had already been consumed by gambling at that point.

He knew he didn’t have the talent to make it as a sportsman and instead managed to dream up another way to travel the world watching the events he loved and making money out of it.

Dog racing, tennis, horse racing and rugby league are listed among his sporting obsessions, but it was a lavish bet on the New Zealand All Blacks to win the 2007 rugby World Cup that proved to be his biggest disaster.

Harry may have made fortunes betting on favourites to win down the years, yet this ‘sure fire’ punt backfired horribly and even though he had laid off £600,000 (€680k) of the bet before the All Blacks were beaten by France in a Cardiff quarter-final, he still lost £1.9m (€2.15m) overall.

Such is the life of a high stakes gambler and less than a year after that financial disaster, Harry was celebrating the ultimate victory at Cheltenham as his horse Denman beat Kauto Star to win the Gold Cup.

One of his latest bets saw him throw £25,000 (€28k)on Floyd Mayweather to beat Conor McGregor in their showdown in Las Vegas in August, with the £5,000 (€5.6) winnings gleaned after he had a wobble on his wager in the build-up to the fight.

“Boxing is so bent and when I saw McGregor’s odds narrowing, I wondered if something strange was going on,” Harry says.

“There was no way Mayweather could lose to a guy who had never stepped inside a professional boxing ring. At least that is how it should have been.

“Mayweather was as big a certainty as you can get in sport…but nothing is certain in boxing and you have to be wary of that.”

Harry passion for all things Irish shines through in our uplifting conversation, with one of his proudest moments coming as his dog Big Fella Thanks won the 1999 Irish Coursing Derby at Clonmel.

“I’ve got an English accent, Scottish heritage, but in terms of my culture, I’m much more at home when I’m in Ireland or Australia,” he concludes.

“I can’t stand being in England I would rather be in Ireland every day of the week.

“I first went to Ireland when I was 19 and spent a few days in Tralee and I was in heaven. I walked into a bookies shop there and they had odds all over the walls, the ceilings, everyone you could look. This was my paradise.

“So many of my greatest moments has taken place in Ireland or with my Irish pals, who are the best people in the world.

“Denman winning the Gold Cup was a special moment and the best thing for me that day was that when he crossed the line, I was with Michael “Curley” O’Driscoll and Eddie Donnelly, my great friends from Skibbereen.

“That was a great day, but winning the Gold Cup didn’t mean as much as the afternoon when my dog Big Fella Thanks won the Irish coursing derby back in 1999, which was an incredible moment.

“Then, and I’ll never forget this one, one of the proudest moments of my entire life was when my dog Jade’s Dilemma beat Man of Slane by three lengths to win the Cork Cup at Blarney.

“I remember the trophy being a lovely round ball, with all my friends in Blarney.

“It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It might not have been the biggest win of my life, but it meant so much to me.”

Harry Findlay, Gambling For Life, is available in all good book shops and online stores now.

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