An extraordinary few hours on Wednesday saw bookmakers hit for huge amounts after five heavily-backed horses obliged around the country, at least four of which were believed to have some link to legendary gambler and former trainer Barney Curley.
But leading firms were quick to downplay claims of a “multi-million pound bloodbath”, with industry estimates put at around �2million.
Bookmakers had been on red-alert from early morning after latching on to the well-backed quintet, all of which were returning from lengthy absences and struck at Lingfield, Catterick and Kempton.
David Williams of Ladbrokes said: “It was a bad day at the office, nothing more and nothing less. We dodged most of the early morning frenzy but you can’t stop moving trains and we got caught up in some of it as the day panned out.
“Suggestions of a multi-million pound bloodbath are probably wide of the mark so we’re not going to lunge for the violins just yet. Our decision not to price the Kempton races up until as late as possible helped protect us from the worst of it and we certainly weren’t exposed to any of the overnight business where most of the fancy prices were snapped up.
“We are satisfied that the systems we have in place at our end are sufficient to protect us as best we can from circumstances like today. Ultimately we have a responsibility to keep on top of the rumours and trade accordingly, which we managed to do.”
Coral’s David Stevens said: “Although we avoided laying some of the larger prices overnight, we did see a number of multiple bets featuring these four horses both online and in shops, and throughout the day this number increased as word of the gamble that was taking place gathered momentum.
“Victory for all four horses has cost us a six-figure payout, and based on our losses we would estimate the industry has been hit for something in the region of �2million, which although still costly, is perhaps lower than some claims.”
Rory Jiwani for Stan James said: “We had one punter who took �100k out of us before we slashed the odds. So it was bad day, but not horrific by any stretch.”
Bet365 priced up the races early, and any punter who got on with a �1 accumulator bet at the reported prices relating to the four particular horses linked to Curley could have expected to pick up around �13,000, although not all firms marked up the races in the morning or overnight.
Curley could not be contacted by Press Association Sport.
First up was Eye Of The Tiger in the 32Red Casino Handicap at Lingfield, eventually going off at even-money and cruising nine lengths clear under Shane Kelly. Now trained in Newmarket by Des Donovan, Eye Of The Tiger was a German Group Two winner but had not featured in seven starts for Curley, the last of which had been when finishing last of 13 at Haydock in September 2012.
Donovan said: “He’s had very bad problems and he won’t run under a penalty. I used to work for Mr Curley and I’m in his yard. No-one wanted to buy him and he said ‘do what you can with him’
The Lingfield stewards held an inquiry into the apparent improvement in form of Eye Of The Tiger. Officials heard from Donovan, who stated that the horse had been in his care for seven months having previously been trained by Curley and its absence from the track was due to back problems and a near fore tendon injury. Having heard his evidence, and received comments from the handicapper, the explanation was noted and Eye Of The Tiger was ordered to be routine tested.
Like Eye Of The Tiger, the Sophie Leech-trained Seven Summits was a former Curley inmate and made no mistake in the yorkshire-outdoors.co.uk Handicap Hurdle at Catterick. Off the track since finishing third in a novice event at Fontwell in June, the seven-year-old travelled well throughout in the hands of Paul Moloney and while long-time leader Copt Hill pushed him all the way to the line, the 9-4 favourite was on top at the post.
Leech’s husband, Christian, told Racing UK: “He’s bandaged in exercise and when he’s in his stables and we just have to mind him very carefully, that’s why he’s got so few miles on the clock. I didn’t (have any money on). Someone just said that (there had been a gamble). He was 7-2, 4-1 in the paper anyway and Tony Carroll’s was very well fancied and that was a non-runner, so I’m not sure about that. I don’t know.”
Indus Valley, also trained by Donovan, landed the third leg of the four in the perceived gamble in the kempton.co.uk Handicap at the Sunbury track, but the 4-6 shot had to work hard to collect. Seamster was three lengths clear going into the final furlong but Kelly produced a power-packed drive to get the seven-year-old home by half a length on his first run for 700 days.
Donovan was also interviewed by the Kempton stewards, stating that Indus Valley had been trained on his own following a year’s break, as he was known to be a hard puller in his previous races, and was better suited by being dropped back to six furlongs. The explanation was noted and the gelding ordered to be routine tested.
All eyes were on Low Key, trained by Curley’s former assistant John Butler, in the final leg, division two of the Kempton For Weddings Handicap, and the seven-year-old made no mistake on his first start since finishing seventh of seven over two miles at Southwell last February.
Sent off at 4-7 and racing in a first-time visor, Liam Keniry’s mount was always travelling with real purpose in the mile-and-a-half event and cruised up to take a gap at the quarter-mile pole. Our Golden Girl ran on late but Low Key was a length to the good at the line. Quizzed by the stewards, Butler stated that Low Key had been gelded since its last run and had benefited from the drop in class. His evidence was noted and the horse routine tested.
William Hill said it saw trickles of money for some of the runners on Tuesday night, coupled with new accounts opening and various permutations attempted across the group of runners, but estimated only a �200,000 group-wide pay-out.
British Horseracing Authority spokesman Robin Mounsey said: “We were aware of, and have been monitoring, the situation today. In the cases of those horses who have shown an improvement in form an inquiry was held by the stipendiary stewards and all horses were routine tested. It is BHA policy not to comment on specific investigations or speculation surrounding potential investigations, however an investigation would only occur if there is any evidence of Rules being breached.”
The drama was not done after Low Key, either, as Callisto Light prevailed in the Dine In The Panoramic Handicap, the last race of the day under the Kempton floodlights.
Generally regarded as being unconnected to the plunges on the other four horses, the Michael Squance-trained mare was having just her fourth career start and first since October 2011 at Southwell. Adam Kirby’s mount was sat just off the pace for most of the mile journey and loomed large two furlongs out, with the outcome not in much doubt from there as the 7-4 favourite won by a length from Olivers Mount.Read the rest of the story British Horseracing Authority News Headlines