/ Racing

Four-horse gamble landed in Britain as horses with links to Barney Curley justify strong support

Updated: Thursday, 23 Jan 2014 21:20 | Comments

The low-grade handicaps that dominate the all-weather programme are particularly vulnerable to carefully orchestrated gambles
The low-grade handicaps that dominate the all-weather programme are particularly vulnerable to carefully orchestrated gambles

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The victories of four horses with links to legendary gambler and former trainer Barney Curley has generated significant interest on an otherwise mundane day of racing in Britain.

The bookmaking industry had been on red-alert from early morning after latching on to the well-backed quartet, all of which were returning from lengthy absences and struck at Lingfield, Catterick and Kempton.

Curley’s famous assertion that “bookmakers won’t lay two bananas to one banana” may be justified as the industry’s PR men took the unusual step of playing down the impact of the gamble.

David Williams of Ladbrokes said: "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.”

Coral's David Stevens said: "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.”

While such gambles are celebrated by a section of the betting public, Stevens also highlighted the negative impact such unlikely coups have on punters and the perceived integrity of the sport.

Stevens added: "As bookmakers we will take this on the chin as it goes with the business we're in, but we would also look at the bigger picture, racing's share of the betting market is decreasing, and while some punters will have profited from these winners, plenty would have bet against them in good faith, ensuring it's not just the bookies who pay the price on days like these."

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, beaten by 85 lengths, 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.

Form figures of winners:
00000/ Eye Of The Tiger,
508/3   Seven Summits,
30000/ Indus Valley,
54/77-  Low Key 

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 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.

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."

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