Life

TV review: The Barney Curley betting coup of 1975 could not be repeated

Legendary gambler Barney Curley pictured in Belfast at the launch of his book. Photo: Hugh Russell
Billy Foley

Barney Curley: The man who beat the bookies, RTE 1, Monday and RTEplayer

Part of the fun of Barney Curley's coup against the bookies is that it would be impossible to repeat.

Prior to the dawn of the digital age, betting coups were things of legend and Curley's success made him feared and revered across Ireland.

The betting coup was regarded in no way as a fraud, but rather to be celebrated by the ordinary punter as getting one over the bookmaker.

Barney Curley died earlier this year but not before he told the tale to this documentary.

From Fermanagh, Barney had narrowly escaped injury in a bomb explosion in Omagh in the 1970s but his main concern in the run up to the coup was that he owed IR£12,000 in gambling debts.

It was a huge sum at a time when a decent house could be purchased for around IR£3,000.

Barney decided he needed to do something big and came up with a plan to wipe out his debts and leave him a handsome profit.

He owned some average horses and asked his trainer to pick the best one. He suggested Yellow Sam and the 1975 coup was underway.

He got the best jockey he could find and Yellow Sam, who had a poor record, trained intensively and specifically for the race.

Barney contacted everyone he knew he could trust and arranged for bets (£15,000 in a maximum individual bet of £5) to be placed by a team of people at 300 betting shops across the country.

Placing the bets in the minutes before the race would make it hard for the various bookmakers to realise a coup was on.

The final odds were set by the on-course bookmakers and it was key to the plan that they never became aware of the huge sums going on Yellow Sam (Barney's dad's nickname).

For this reason, Barney picked Bellewstown racecourse in Co Meath which was serviced at the time by just one public phone box.

He then organised for a friend to occupy the phone box for 20 minutes before the flag dropped, telling the on-course bookmakers waiting to make a call that his aunt was dying in hospital.

Sean Graham (“the greatest bookmakers I have seen in my career”) was the most senior on the track and Curley confided in him that he had “something big going.” Graham promised not to get in his way if none of the Graham shops were hit.

Yellow Sam started out as a 12/1 but with no money being placed on him, he went out to 20/1 by the time the horses were running.

Still something could have gone wrong, but jockey Michael Furlong gave him a great ride and he won going away.

Curley, hiding in the centre of the track after getting a lift to the meeting in a car no one would recognise, won £300,000.

He said most of the bookmakers paid out in £1 notes to spite him but he had collected £2 million in today's money and a legend was born.

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Paul McGinley: Ireland's greatest golf holes, Sky Sports, Tuesday

Bequeathed from the landed gentry, the British army, the developers of the Celtic Tiger years and at least two parish priests, Ireland is one of the world's great places for golf.

It was fitting then that former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley showed us around, albeit at break neck speed.

In a 30-minute show he started in Kinsale, Co Cork, travelled to Ardglass, Co Down, then Royal Belfast and finally almost as far west as you can go to Belmullet, Co Mayo to see Carne golf links.

Tourism Ireland will be delighted with this one.

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