I admire Barney Curley. He is truly an enigma. I admire his patience and his discipline in organising today’s betting coup. I admire his attention to detail. But let’s be clear he’s not a shrewd operator. He’s not a clever gambler and he’s no friend to punters.

To use a poker analogy the shrewd operator and the clever gambler will come out on top no matter what hand he is dealt. What Curley is, in poker terms, is a ‘mechanic’ . A card mechanic, provided he holds the deck in his hands and it’s his deal , can choose which cards fall where and when. To deal from the bottom of the deck requires years of application and discipline. It’s a great skill but it’s a very different skill to that of a champion.

He’s played his hand today with the deck stacked and with crucial cards marked. Yes, it requires discipline and yes it requires patience and deep pockets but betting on the turn of the card is easy when you’re the only player at the table who knows whether the card in question is an ace or a blank. That’s the key factor here. Nobody, other than Curley, knows how his horses are going to perform on any given day as the form book provides no clues as to what is about to happen on the racecourse. There is a card face down on the middle of the baize, you can’t see the card but one player at the table knows what that card is. Fancy playing cards against that player?

So let’s be honest about it. The beneficiary of Barney Curley’s MO is himself and no one else. There are those still who like to cast Curley as some kind of Robin Hood. There may have been some mileage in that image in the old days. When Curley was engineering coups against off course bookies because there was no legitimate way to get bets on and to play the hand you were dealt.

Those days have long gone. You can get your money on now thanks to the revolution of the betting exchange. Those same exchanges mean that the victims of coups like those we saw today are not just the big bookies. The victims today will be the small and the independent layers, some of whom will probably be near crippled by this. The victims are the connections of every other horse entered in the races where Curley’s horses were successful at their expense and, crucially, the victims are the legion punters playing in these races today whilst ignorant of Curley and his record.

So, forgive me if I don’t join the fawning and the genuflecting. I admire the skills and I admire the sheer graft that went in to what happened today but the betting market today is a zero sum game. Every penny won will be matched, ultimately, by a penny lost and a big proportion of those losses will be borne by those who were effectively ‘innocent civilians’ in Curley’s war.

I admire Curley for another reason though. I admire him for the mirror he’s held up to the sport today. He’s illustrated in a way so graphic that even the most sycophantic and craven apologist cannot deny it, that our sport is open, in fact wide open, to the most rank abuse. Nothing that Curley did today is illegal. Nothing he did is necessarily in breach of any of the rules of racing, although obviously it begs questions regarding the previous performances of some of the horses involved. Nothing he did today can be easily acted upon by the sports authorities.

Nothing that he did today is different in essence to what many have done and continue to do. The only difference was the audacity and the scale of what happened.

So the real question today is not what has gone on but what will the reaction be? How will the BHA react? How will the media react? How will punters react? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions but I’ll be particularly interested to see how my colleagues in the media react.

I’ll make a little prediction though. If it looks like Curley has pushed the envelope too far today. If it looks like public opinion may slide against him and if one or two key voices in the media have the courage to speak up then I think we might see quite a backlash. If not, then I think we’ll see business as usual.

What I’d like to see is a proper debate about the real issues that today raises. The real issues of how we police our sport how we regulate betting on the sport and how we face up, honestly and openly, to our shortcomings.

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19 Comments

  1. rorydelargy says:

    The mistake that many make is thinking that this is a blow against the bookies, whereas the wise man realises that successful punters win money, not from bookmakers but from other punters. That’s what in America they call “the skinny”.

  2. Graeme says:

    Speaking as a smaller punter, i have admiration for his bets. Barney will be open to criticism from you guys in racing media circles Boycie, but none of you pull up other trainers. What’s the difference between what Curley has done, as opposed to trainers whos horses aren’t backed when they need a run, yet the gamble comes in when they’re 100% fit ? many of us back horses not knowing if they need the run or not, and don’t get told either.

    Where is the uproar everytime a horse is a NR in a eight horse field ?

    Bookies also knowingly lay horses who they know won’t run. Therefore, forgive me for not having an ounce of sympathy for them.

    My understanding is that todays gamble was taken from regular bookies. As far as i’m concerned, exchange punters should know better than to lay his horses. If anyone thinks they have sufficient enough knowledge with regards to racing, they should know that they could be leaving themselves exposed going against his runners.

    I’m under no illusions that he’s doing it for himself, and not the punters. However seeing someone stand up to the bookies is like seeing the playground bully get his ass kicked. The bookies are the most corrupt institution within racing, and the more money they lose the better.

  3. rorydelargy says:

    “As far as i’m concerned, exchange punters should know better than to lay his horses”

    True, although possibly in the same way that young women shouldn’t wear provocative clothing, as often used to be argued in rape cases in the “good old days”. Apologies for that crass analogy, but the argument about naievete getting its reward, while demonstrably true on one level, simply doesn’t wash when it comes to discussions about right and wrong in horseracing betting.

    Off course bookmakers deserve little sympathy, but as long as coups like this exist then they will appear justified in their approach to ordinary punters – someone has to pay, after all….

  4. DenLon says:

    I too have little sympathy for bookmakers, rest assured, neither this coup or the plunge on Don’t Push It in The National, will see them in the workhouse. I dare say exchange layers took a hit too, although apparently not much at the bigger price about Jeu De Roseau. I do have sympathy for them if, like me, they’re trying to eke a living from this game. Personally, there are certain trainers, no matter what they run, who I’d never lay, Mark Rimmer & Stuart Williams to name 2, Barney Curley is certainly on that list too.
    I remember when I first started betting, Reg Akehurst landing many gambles in handicaps that had punters across the land cheering them home having joined in. Barney Curley is different though.
    Sean you’re right, Mr Curley is no Robin Hood, he might well run a charity, but he only cares about Barney Curley, not doing the ordinary punter a favour.
    I for one don’t revere him, I think he’s what’s wrong with racing & gives it a bad name. From his rant at John McCririck to this latest coup which brings me to my main point, as you correctly pointed out, the previous performances of these horses were nothing more than public schooling sessions. I’m not naive, I know not every horse in every race is running to its full potential, or can be expected to, but I think the non-triers rule isn’t enforced enough in racing. How many times have we all seen horses, whether it be on the flat or over the jumps, run 3 times to get a handicap mark then bolt up first time the money is down. Horses are publically schooled all the time without as much as a second thought.

    That all being said Barney Curley isn’t entirely to be blamed. afterall he’s broken no rules, he’s just took advantage of handicap marks. The handicapper has to bear some of the blame. I don’t know if it’s because these coups often take place in lowly races, but when you check the form the drastic drop in handicap marks astounds me. Savaronola dropped 20lb in 4 flat races, Sommersturm (the one that lost) 30lb in 6 flat races, Agapanthus only 9lb in 6 races, but was 2lb lower than it’s last win, and finally Jeu De Roseau (formerly owned & trained by Barney) dropped 13lb since its last outing, just because it hadn’t run for 742 days, please!!!!!
    Horses that always give you a run for your money without winning don’t seem to me to get the same treatment, here’s 2 examples out of many. Mirrored won off a mark of 82 at Sandown last year, has raced 7 times since without winning and finished last but one at Ascot on Saturday off a mark of 98. Sohraab won at the Chester May meeting last year off a mark of 96, it’s run consistently 8 times since, without winning, the last of which was in the same race at Chester this year off a mark of 97.
    Why such differences? Should the quality of race, the prize money won effect how many times a horse must run before its handicap mark is dropped the same sort of poundage?

  5. seanboyce says:

    Morning all! Great to hear from you on here Rory, hope you’re well.
    Graeme, I think none of us will shed any tears for the big corporate bookies but I agree with Rory’s point, someone will pay. It works just like insurance in that respect. The big bent claim will get paid but honest policyholders premiums will go up to cover it.
    As I’ve said in the piece Graeme, he’s done nothing substantially different to what many others do. That in a way is why yesterday could be a small watershed depending how racing reacts. To pick up on Denis’ points I’m nut sure we can ever close all the loopholes but I do think we can do much more to protect punters from ALL such pracitces. Of course we won’t rule it out altogether but a start would be for the media to stop tacitly endorsing or even applauding such coups and for teh authorities to act more robustly and be willing to change the rules if necessary. We’ll see.

  6. Jane Anderson says:

    Hi Sean

    I have sent you some email to the attheraces email address concerning the Curley coup. It’s not material I would wish to place on here.

  7. seanboyce says:

    Hi jane,
    I’m not in ATR this week. If you’d like to send anything to me here info@boyciesbettingblog.com. It will come straight to me.
    All the best,
    Sean

  8. Patrick says:

    Curley the failed bookmaker so inept was he he once laid Golden Fleece for £150 grand for the Epsom Derby his judgement so poor he actually thought one of the greatest Derby winners of all time was useless! [his words].
    Cue he can’t hack it as a bookie so he reverts to skullduggery to usurp his former colleagues.
    We all know about the illegal lottery and the Yellow Sam coup that instantly catapulted this shady character to folk hero status helped in no uncertain terms by a mostly fawning media and naive public, that song by Morrissey “The last of the famous international playboys” a eulogy to gangsterism springs to mind.
    Curley’s so called coup yesterday was not deserving of the praise that has been heaped on it by many, including your colleagues Chapman and Big Mac Sean, Big Mac says: don’t we just love a good old fashioned coup?, Chapman was almost orgasmic when Grants horse went in.

    Curley could afford to be patient as he owns and trains his own horses, other trainers are under pressure to get results for their owners be they be impatient or patient owners?, so Curley was under no pressure and with the help of a very lenient handicapper he repeatedly sent his horses to the races unfit, so no need for his Jockeys to pull his horses to stop them going faster because they are so unfit they automatically go backwards anyway, the authorities hands are tied they can never catch his jockeys given them an easy and they can’t prove his horses were running unfit either so he could pick and choose between scores of races knowing the deck was dealt heavily in his favour.
    Not the stuff of a genius or done with military like precision like some fawning apoligits would have you believe, because stopping a horse is the simplest thing in the world to do leave them in their box don’t exercise them regulary etc etc, Curleys only claim to fame in all this was patience was his trump card.
    Sean one thing that the authorities have got that they can actually act on and its written in stone that all of these horses have made quite remarkable improvements in form, as do virtually every one of Curleys winners, but as we have seen over the years that on the rare occasion the stewards haul a trainer in to explain the improvement the trainer spouts out some old cock and bull the stewards except the explanations put forward without question and we hear no more about it.
    With Curley as I’ve already said everyone of his winners are making huge improvements, hardly a coincidence or a one off, he should be hauled in, asked to explain the improvement and then tell him that we don’t believe you Barney and ban him for a certain period of time, because they can’t all run with lead boots on and then suddenly run as if a rocket booster was inserted in their rectum area.
    Not on your life Sean will the authorities do a thing about it as they’re terrified of the bully Curley and thats exactly what he is a Bully!!!, brings us back to the threat of litgation that has the authorities cowering like shivering beaten dogs, I think there is an incredible amount of evidence that has accumalated over the years to prove that Curley has not been playing fair and I would love the authorities to grow a spine and take there chances and face down Curleys possible legal threats, bottom line is! he’s making them look like chumps and is laughing right in their faces.
    Punters Pal my backside, the Curley motto: “Me, Myself and I”

    Regards Patrick.

  9. Ryor says:

    V. interesting article and replies.

    Speaking as a bit-part owner, it’s no use blaming Curley or other trainers – even the honest ones do it. Why? Because the prize money for most UK races at class 4 or lower level (the majority) is complete rubbish – doesn’t even cover a month’s training fees for most owner. Then if you have a moderate handicapper that won’t do a lot of improving, you’re stuffed as soon as it wins anyway – handicapper puts it up to a hopeless mark where it languishes for the next 6 runs, minimum – they’re quick to put them up, and seem to forget to bring em down. No wonder even the decent trainers have to resort to running them at unsuitable tracks, distances etc.

    Racing for Change should address this FUNDAMENTAL issue as the no.1 priority, not fiddle about with daft fringe stuff like decimal odds. Until the BHA come up with some ways & means of improving prize money in the UK (look at Ireland for comparison!!) the trickery will go on.

  10. Graeme says:

    Some interesting points here.

    Patrick i can’t agree with you. I think coups should be celebrated as a win against a failing system.

    The Liberal democrats are making gains from a failing voting system, much in the same way Curley is getting paid from a naive handicapping system.

    I don’t think anyone should get upset about this. If i was handicapper the solution would be simple, don’t be generous to Curley, and allocate a weight to all his horses that is a representation of a potential improvement for all his runners. In other words top weight(there or there abouts) the lot of them. Until such time, i will be cheering on his runners in the hope he hits the bookies.

    Ryor – I think you might have a point. However, perhaps to improve the prize money there would need to be less races. However, the less races the more potential there is for a significant increase in runner per race. Perhaps a solution would be for bookies to contribute to the prize money seeing as they greatly benefit from a sport that some would say they don’t put enough in to ?

  11. Patrick says:

    I think its a very dangerous mindset to have to say that coups should be celebrated Graeme, in fairness you’re not alone as this celebration of skullduggery in racing and its perpetrators has become entrenched over the years, all part of the romantacism the loveable rogue syndrome if you like?.
    We are looking at racing for change, and racing would go a long way by trying to rid itself of this mindset, move forward and stop giving the likes of Curley almost celebratory bold headlines in national newspapers and glowing vocal eulogies with hardly even a hint of outrage from racings printed and broadcasted media.
    When betting scandals break in other sports like Cricket, Soccer and Snooker the outrage reverberates around the world, so why should racing be any different?.
    Yes Curley is not the only one and the authorities have to shoulder the blame for allowing the bookmakers to spread their tentacles all over the product which in turn has diluted the product for their own selfish means, in that I have no sympathy for the bookmakers but as has already been said Curley and his ilk shennanigans effect a lot more than the hated bookmakers, the sheer presence of their horses in races in effect ruin the race, its virtually impossible to take an early stance in a race as you haven’t a clue what might be about to unfold.
    The sheer arrogance of Curley makes me sick to be honest, this is the guy who gave himself the unofficial title “The Punters Pal” when he would cause all sorts of disruption when he didn’t get enough of his money on and I’ll stress that! “HIS” not your money and started pulling horses out just as they were about to be loaded into the stalls, in effect ruining the race for all concerned and he had the neck to call himself my pal!, when everything was and is all about himself and nobody else.
    This guy should not be given iconic status and he’s not a genius because stopping horses is not the stuff of Einsteins and Newtons but the carry on of a theif its no different than the local house burglar no matter how you much you try to dress it up, he’s making money by unscrupulous means and in any other walk of life you’d get a prison sentence, in racing you get GOD like status, pinch me but there’s something very unethical going on here?.
    The guy is also a rip roaring hypocrite which racing for change should be doing their utmost to rid our great sport of these shady unsavoury characters.

  12. seanboyce says:

    Thanks for all the comments everyone and great to welcome aboard some new faces too. Ryor, I take your point re prize money and it’s certainly a factor. Why try and win a race that’s worth £1500 to the winner when you could make 10 times that laying your horse? The question is what kind of sport do we want to have and also what kind of sport is sustainable in the long run?
    I remember having a debate a few years ago with Paul Haigh on this. He thought that punters would stomach any degree of skullduggery and keep on punting. I disagreed. I felt that unfettered corruption would kill the sport eventually.
    If Paul’s right, I’ll eventually admit defeat and find another interest and another job I guess.
    The issue I have with those who think what Curley pulled off is terrific is where do you draw the line? Was what trainer Phil Mcentee did great too? And Karl Burke? and Paul Blockley? What’s the moral distinction? We can’t have it all ways. We can’t say what character, what colour isn’t it all such fun! And then complain when our win bet is matched by someone who knows full well the horse we’re backing with them has no chance at all of winning. We need to decide if we want to have our cake or to eat it, if we think we can do both indefinitely my guess is we’re in for a rude awakening further down the line.

  13. Halfway To Nowhere says:

    Although I wish it weren’t the case, I have a feeling that Paul (Haigh) may be right. As has been proven on The Racing Forum in the last twenty-four hours, those who took the chance that ‘today was the day’ for Curley’s runners certainly won’t have any complaints. Indeed, in many cases the beneficiaries of whatever did or didn’t happen seem almost thankful to the old goat. Appreciative even. On the flip-side there are those who find the entire debacle wholly dissatisfying and will continue to bet almost ‘on tilt’ to offer two fingers back to this particularly unsavoury transgressor.

    Let’s face it, one way or another, racing had its pants pulled down around its ankles yesterday and was given the ‘new cellmate treatment’ in no uncertain terms. The BHA have been (with a great degree of futility) scrabbling to pick up the soap for so long that it was bound to happen eventually and in this case the perpetrator didn’t care who was watching.

    But what can be done?

    History has shown us that proving guilt – if indeed there is any to prove – in situations likes this is irritatingly difficult and deciding by what method to combat corruption appears to be an equally vengeful mistress. Should racing have to offer financial incentives for people not to cheat? Would the sport encounter the same monetary implosion currently facing football were prize money to reach incredulous levels? Is it likely that the corrupt whose heads were successfully turned will revert to their old ways once the additional, legitimate rewards become run-of-the-mill?

    Football, snooker and cricket have all tackled the issue of corruption and with some success. But all three sports have also proved that the likelihood of acquiring significant personal wealth in the pursuit of one’s job by no means negates the desire to ‘earn’ more. Corrupt minds will remain as such until they’re prevented from being exercised within the boundaries to which they have become accustomed and racing, unlike other industries, continues to fail to tip the balance in its favour.

    The simple facts are that cheating in horseracing is too easy, the methods for establishing and proving guilt are far from robust and the potential punishments are so lenient that being caught is almost an irrelevance. Who cares about being warned off if the proceeds of your dishonesty remain untouched and you have friends and family willing to place bets for you? Gangs don’t cease to be if their Numero Uno ends up behind bars – they still have their guns, money, drugs and whatever else – and the same is true of cheats. They’ll always find a way.

    Racing needs to make cheating more difficult, not reward those of questionable moral substance. Rules need to be made more strict – as an example, allow jockeys, trainers and owners to register two mobile numbers with the BHA, one for business and one for personal use, and make the utilisation of an unregistered number (widely available signal scanners will pick up rogue SIM cards) grounds for immediate suspension – and punishments far more severe. Money is what cheats crave, so take it away. If they don’t have it, bankrupt them. Weigh horses as a matter of course to ascertain their ideal racing weight; if a horse wins off a mark of 120 weighing 600kg and then runs down the field weighing 650kg, don’t alter its rating (weight increases due to physical growth will soon become apparent, especially if measurements are accompanied by photographic evidence). Place those who have given cause for concern on performance-related probation and routinely test their horses without remorse. If something inexplicably adverse is detected, fine and/or ban every owner, trainer, stable lad, stable lass and vet who have had anything to do with the animal in question.

    There are so many simple things that racing could do – making monetary consequences a condition of acquiring a license is hardly rocket science – whilst more complicated measures are devised and implemented. But, for whatever reason, rocking the boat is just too damn hard.

  14. seanboyce says:

    You really do get a much better quality of post on my blog than anywhere else! Very gratifying. Some really well written and well argued points. Plenty of passion too.
    The response from the racing media yesterday was totally lacking in any challenge, rigour or imagination I thought and is symptomatic of the inherent acceptance of endemic low level corruption within the sport.
    Given that we’re pushing 48 hour decs to sell the sport I do wonder what they will make of all this in Australia and in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
    ‘So, let’s get this straight cobber, if the owner backs it it’s probably about a 1/3 chance, if he doesn’t back it it’s probably a 300/1 chance? And we have to monitor the market and wait and see which way it goes? We also have to watch out for the same bloke backing horses that he hasn’t officially had in his care for more than two years but may have had in his yard in the past? And once again we have to monitor the market and wait and see if this fella plays before we know whether the horse should be the favourite or the rank outsider? And in your country this is called adding a bit of local colour and there’s no penalties for doing it? Jeez mate, that doesn’t sound like much fun.’
    On days like this you sometimes have to laugh or you’ll cry.
    I’ve got a couple of days off now, so enjoy yourselves.

  15. seanboyce says:

    anyway, by way of a little light relief I’m filing news from nowhere (hat tip to the great Nick Cave there)which will give me a chance to safely vent the frustrations at the Kafkaesque events we’ve been talking about recently. Pure nonsense and pure light relief.

  16. Graeme says:

    Curley gets the condemnation because he doesn’t care what anyone says, so is less discreet about his shenanigans.

    Look at the Chanon trained Rileyskeepingfaith :-

    2nd may – opened 20/1 SP 25/1 finished 12/23
    8th May – opened 50/1 SP 50/1 17/29
    15th May – opened 9/1 SP 6/1 1/13

  17. Patrick says:

    I know the Curley thing has been done to death but I can’t help but question some of the Curley apologists from the media and bookmaking profession, stand up Dave Metcalf, Richard Birch, various Irish media lapdogs and Barry Dennis!.

    They seemed to have been aghast at the adverse reaction to poor old Barney and his so called coup.
    The main gist of their argument is that we are all punters and someone getting one over on the old enemy like Barney should be applauded and not vilified.

    But hang on here a minute Curley is not just a punter but also a horse trainer now in my eyes the biggest enemy to the punter by a country mile is not the bookmaker but the horse training profession.
    The bookmaker offers you a price on a horse up to you whether you want to take that price or not? if the horse loses its not the bookmakers fault but your bad judgement, yes? or there might be a more sinister reason why the horse ran deplorably? the scheming trainer decided today is not the day and next time won’t be the day either, trying to second guess horse trainers is the most difficult thing for a punter to work out and with some trainers it is just simply impossible, why do the Racing Post use up valuable print asking Dandy Nichols for his comments as to how his 4 runners in a thirsk handicap are going to perform, the same old guff everytime they’re all in good form and hopefully will run well, hello Dandy! which one is it then? might aswell be talking to a dead sheep.
    That brings us back to the Barney apologists they say at least Barney is transparent unlike Nichols if the money is down they usually win blah blah blah, as I’ve said before there is something rotten and unethical about a person that can be so blazoo about his activities giving the two fingured salute to the racing authorities knowing full well what he is doing is blatant skullduggery and the authorities can’t do a thing about it, or can they? but are so petrified of Curley that refuse to move against him.
    Do well to remember Barney apologists be they punter or journalist that your biggest enemy is not the bookmaker but yes the training profession.
    Oh but I hear you say the bookmakers won’t lay me a decent bet, you can have any amount you want on, on the exchanges if your not an exchange punter you can still get plenty on by going to various different shops having a bit on here and a bit on there, anyone who puts all their eggs in one basket deserves to get knocked back.

  18. coldironsbound says:

    Absolutely spot on Boycie. Good to see someone in the industry actually have the bottle to say what surely many others must be thinking. The likes of Curley are harmful to racings image. Racing cannot claim to be clean while the likes of him are able to manipulate the system with such regularity and blatant disregard for the betting public.

  19. seanboyce says:

    Hi there cib, thansk for the kind comments there and welcom aboard. Hope you enjoy the blog. All the best, Boycie

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