Former horse trainer and legendary gambler Barney Curley passed away at the age of 81 over the weekend – almost 46 years since he pulled off one of the greatest coups in history.
Curley was famed for his staggering "Yellow Sam" betting masterstroke back in 1975, which saw him rake in an amount worth £1.5million in today’s money.
The Northern Irishman staged the historic coup by taking advantage of an under-handicapped horse and the lack of easy communications between the Bellewstown race course and off-course bookmakers.
The sheer audacity and scale of his ploy secured it a place in racing folklore, while also making him the bookies' public enemy No.1 and forcing them to change betting laws to prevent a similar disaster from playing out again.
Curley bought Yellow Sam, who was described as a "slow but steady" runner, and named him after the nickname his father attained at the races.
He instructed the horse's trainer, Liam Brennan, to set his sights specifically on the historic but obscure annual National Hunt meeting at Bellewstown, which mainly featured amateur jockeys.
They made sure Yellow Sam would run at least once with a lighter handicap than would typically be the case, first running him in several other races in unfavourable conditions.
As a result of his cunning plan, Yellow Sam appeared to have little chance of success at Bellewstown and therefore started at a price of 20-1.
Nevertheless, Curley knew that if large sums of money were placed on the horse, that figure would plummet rapidly and reduce the potential take of his coup.
That explains why he chose Bellewstown to pull off his masterplan, as the track was serviced by only two phone lines – one public telephone box and a private line belonging to the company which supplied data to betting shops.
The latter line was allegedly cut early in the day, meaning only the telephone box remained – which Curley reportedly sent one of his men to occupy by making fake inquiries about the health of a fictional relative just before the race.
Dozens of his pals were sent to an estimate 300 bookies' shops around the country with between £50 and £300 and sealed instructions to be opened upon receiving a call.
It is believed Curley invested just over IR£15,000 – his entire savings at the time – but he raked in a staggering IR£300,000 – which is £1.5million in today’s money.
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Curley told the Irish Mirror in 2015: “It was 40 years ago but I remember it as if it was yesterday. I just took a chance and it came off.
“He [Yellow Sam] wasn’t a great, he was a moderate horse but jockey Michael Furlong got the best out of him.
“It was just one of those things – you took a gamble and it worked well.
“But it launched me, it allowed me to go on to do a lot of other things.
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“I’m going to Bellewstown to see the play on Thursday, I’m looking forward to it.
“It’ll be strange to see myself on a stage doing the things I did 40 years ago.”
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