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Barney Curley

The man who stung the bookies

Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Barney Curley, the “scourge of the bookies”, hit the headlines with his Yellow Sam sting in 1975 at the Bellewstown racecourse, Ireland, says David Jones in the Daily Mail. Curley, who was born in Co Fermanagh and died last month aged 81, knew the horse, Yellow Sam, was better than its 20-1 odds, but didn’t want to spook the bookies with a big bet. So he recruited 100 punters to place small wagers totalling £15,300. The horse won and, thanks to his “military planning and outrageous chutzpah”, so did Curley: he scooped a £306,000 payout (£2m in today’s money). Suddenly rich, he and his wife bought a Georgian mansion on the shores of Lough Ennell – then sold it by raffle, charging £175 a ticket and investing in his horse-training business in Newmarket.

Gambling ran in the family: the Irish Independent describes his father, Charlie, as “a tough, stern man with a profound affection for alcohol and greyhounds”. When his 18-year-old son, Chuck, died in 1995, Curley gave much of his time and winnings to his charity, Direct Aid for Africa. But he had one last sting in him. In 2010 he recruited “a small army” of Irish punters to cycle between London betting shops, placing accumulator bets on four of his horses – three won, earning Curley £3.9m. “I don’t want to depart this world with people saying, ‘He was the one who skinned the bookmakers alive at Bellewstown,’” he said recently. “I want to leave this world thinking I did a bit of good.”