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Australian Horse Racing - Rogues & Ring-Ins
SP BOOKMAKERS - until 1931, betting with a bookmaker on-course was the only legal form of gambling in Victoria. In that year, a small on-course tote was introduced to give punters an alternative. However with the advent of radio and the telephone, results of a race could be heard off-course and there were plenty of people who wanted to bet without going to the track. While many placed their bets on a daily or weekly basis, the Melbourne Cup was so widely known and loved by the Australian public that punters in every state wanted a piece of the action. This resulted in one of the most entertaining wrinkles in Australia’s history of larrikinism and general illegal activity – the SP Bookmaker.
Flourishing up until the early 1960’s, it was a complex business involving a Bookmaker to take the bets and pay the winners, Runners who would literally run all over the suburbs, taking bets from people at home, in the back lanes and in the local bars and Cockies (short for Cockatoos) who were posted at strategic points such as high spots and intersections to warn the Runners & Bookies of approaching Law Enforcement. However, a lot of blind eyes were turned with Bookies openly settling up with winners in public places at the end of the day - as seen personally by the writer as late as 1962 in the lounge of a traditional old Hotel in Rockhampton Qld.
As Governments often do when they see something lucrative going on that isn’t generating any taxes, there was a Royal Commission in 1959 which resulted in the arrival of the Victorian Government owned and operated off-course TAB (Totalisator Agency Board) in 1961. The concept was good in that finally some of the money wagered on racing was returned to the racing industry, and punters had a means of betting without risking getting on the wrong side of their local Bookie.
Over time, TAB shops turned up all over the country, firstly in the High St. and eventually in many Pubs and Clubs. Along the way the TAB in some states has been sold to private ownership, although their commitment to supporting the industry remains in place (subject to yearly ‘profits’).
With bookmakers in Australia unable to operate from off-course shops, the majority of bookmakers bets were taken on course until the mid 1990’s. Then, corporate bookmakers were able to offer a new alternative to punters with the Northern Territory government issuing licences enabling phone and online gambling for everyone. It is now legal for online bookmakers such as Sportsbet to take bets from customers in Australia and overseas on all Australian racing and sports events.
WHY ARCHER DIN’T WIN A THIRD MELBOURNE CUP - Sydney trained Archer won the first and second Melbourne Cups in 1861 & 1862. In 1863, his trainer Etienne De Mestre lodged his nomination for the race by telegraph in Sydney on the day he had been informed was the official closing date. When the Telegraph Boy arrived at the Melbourne offices of the V.T.C. they were closed and deserted - it was a public holiday in Victoria, celebrating Separation Day when the state became independent from New South Wales. When the Telegram was presented again the next day it was too late, which upset De Mestre and all the other Sydney trainers so much they withdrew all their horses from the race, leaving a field of only 7. The race was won by Banker carrying a weight equivalent to 34.29 kgs.
UNDER & OVER - Newcastle, 1903. Gentleman Jim, owned by Jim ‘The Grafter’ Kingsley was sent out at generous odds due to his high weight, the equivalent of 68kgs. When stewards informed Kingsley that Gentleman Jim’s jockey had weighed in 13kgs light, he returned to the scales and stamped his foot on the floor, demanding a recount. Amazingly, the weight was then found to be correct. Later in the afternoon, officials discovered a trap door giving access beneath the scales. In the space below, they found a boy eating a pie and a lead weight for 13kgs.
MACKINNONS STAKES - L.K.S. Mackinnon was the chairman of the VRC in the 1920’s and 30’s. Also a racehorse owner, his expensive colt Carradale was beaten in the 1929 Victoria & AJC Derbies by a New Zealand bred gelding named Phar Lap. As a result, Mackinnon attempted to introduce new penalties in weight-for-age events in an attempt to favour the colts in big races, which he maintained would improve Australian breeding stock. Once the public learned of this, Phar Lap quickly became the people’s champion and a symbol of the battlers triumph over the establishment.
THE PHANTOM CALL - just as the last race was due to run at Melbourne’s Ascot track in December 1939, the wires of radio stations 3LO & 3DB were cut. Harry Solomons, the race caller at the remaining live station 3XY, continued to review the field, mentioning in particular a horse named Buoyancy. Solomons produced a phantom call in which Buoyancy won the race at odds of 6 – 1. Problem was the caller on 3DB had just managed to shout ‘they’re off’ before his broadcast was cut. It was enough for investigators to solve the case. It is unclear how much money was won by those in the know, since most of it would have been taken from illegal SP Bookies, who tend to keep quiet about such things.
THE FIRST CUP PHOTO FINISH - the 1948 Melbourne Cup was the first to be decided by a photo finish. Punters on the Hill at Flemington, right behind the winning post, believed they had seen Dark Marne win the race in the last bound over Rimfire. The jockey himself always maintained that he had won the race. But the photo showed a different result, with Rimfire winning by a nose. It was not until the following Autumn that a journalist from Sydney proved the mirror and the post camera did not line up, so the photo was not actually being taken on the winning line. Too late for the punters and connections of Dark Marne, and that’s racing.
WHEN LESS IS MORE - One of the most popular ways to win big on the Melbourne Cup was with a Caulfield Cup - Melbourne Cup Double. When Bart Cumming's Big Philou won the 1969 Caulfield Cup, bookies were faced with a huge liability if he went on to win at Flemington. On the morning of the Cup, stable staff noticed the horse was not well and scouring. Imagine the drama on track when the horse was scratched at 2.01pm, just 39 minutes before the Cup would be run. In fact, it would have been a better for the bookies if the horse had run but performed badly – as a late scratching all bets had to be refunded. Doping was suspected, but a police enquiry failed to find a suspect. Some years later, someone did admit to being paid to nobble Big Philou and up to another 8 horses that year, but the case was never solved.
PRINCE HUMPHREY 1928 A.J.C. DERBY - official records show that Prince Humphrey won the Derby in 1928, but he wasn’t in the race. It was a horse called Cragsman, from the same sire but a different mare. The substitution came to light when Dick Tate of Toowoomba saw a picture of the Derby winner months later. An ex-employee of Woodland Stud, he knew that Prince Humphrey had different white feet and face markings, and had photographs to prove it. The A.J.C. admitted they didn’t check the brands properly but it was too late to do anything about it. They check brands more closely now.
ROYAL SCHOOL 1972 - when Rick Renzella purchased Royal School for $350, he had a cunning plan in mind. But his unknown horse won at Casterton with ridiculous ease, and it was soon discovered that the horse was in fact the 1970 Liston Stakes winner Regal Vista. Renzella was jailed for two years.
FINE COTTON - Novice Handicap, Eagle Farm 18 August 1984. Bookmakers were hit with a betting plunge that saw Fine Cotton, an eight year old gelding that had finished tenth at his previous start, backed from 33-1 into 7-2. When Fine Cotton beat the early favourite Harbour Gold by a nose, stewards immediately asked for the trainer, Hayden Haitana, but he failed to appear. An inquiry was opened before correct weight could be declared.
From the beginning, the plan was flawed. They had another horse which looked a lot like Fine Cotton, but ran faster. The switch may have worked if they had used that horse, but it was injured before the race and they were forced to find a replacement. They bought another horse for the job, Bold Personality - only he was a bay horse, not brown like Fine Cotton, and he didn’t have white socks.
Rather than abandon the plan altogether, they decided to change the horses colouring with hair colour from the local supermarket and had to improvise his white socks with a can of paint. As the hot and sweating horse returned to the winners stall, racegoers started to yell ‘ring-in’, pointing at the tell-tale dribbles of paint running down the horses hooves.
The race was awarded to Harbour Gold and 'Fine Cotton' was disqualified, so all those who plunged on Fine Cotton lost their money. Haitana & John “The Phantom” Gillespie received jail sentences, eight other people, including bookmakers Bill & Rob Waterhouse, were found to have prior knowledge of the incident and were warned off the racetracks for many years, despite insisting they were innocent of all charges. Rob was finally permitted back on a racetrack in 1998 to accompany his wife Gai Waterhouse. His bookmakers license was re-issued in 2001. Their son Tom Waterhouse is also a prominent Sydney bookie, and to date his reputation is spotless.
On the Punt:
Racing People & History:
THE ROGUES - among other things, Australian Bushrangers Ned Kelly and Captain Thunderbolt were always in trouble for horse stealing – with racehorses proving to be the fastest conveyance in a getaway situation. It was also apparently not uncommon for high class stallions to ‘escape’ from their stables and somehow find their way in to their neighbour’s mares’ paddock, getting down to business before anyone could stop them. And no, you don’t get a pedigree with that. This is partly to blame for some of the very fine quality of stock horses & wild Brumbies for which Australia is famous.
The modern rules and procedures of racing make it much harder to beat the system with the highest levels of security, drug testing, video surveillance, breeding records and identification brands. It is reasonable to say that these procedures mostly came into existence as a result of immoral deeds being discovered. But in the past, sometimes it was the racing authorities themselves who stooped to a slightly less than ethical way of nobbling a horse...
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