This section didn't quite make the cut of Off The Chest. Originally, it was planned to cover a horse racing fix. However, due to a certain footballer being involved in exactly that, this was pulled.
season ended - this time a profitable one. I still owned most of the money I’d received as reward for the fix. My debts had been whittled down to
almost nothing and I had a greater standing in my club - ironic since I
betrayed them in a heartbeat.
I wasn’t quite in their league on the field,
but I wanted to join the Owens, Fowlers and the McManamans off the field. So I
went and bought myself a horse. Well, actually, Hollow, Wheezy and Simmo and I
went and bought a horse.
We thought it best to keep the Infamous Four
together – and what more innocent way than by buying a four-legged racing
It was just that Hollow, Wheezy and Simmo
didn’t actually know of my cunning plan just yet. But they would soon enough –
and they’d go along with the idea. Well, they had few enough ideas of their
own. This one was bound to be a winner, wasn’t it?
Anyway, they owed me big time. The bent game
they’d participated had netted them thousands. They could afford to channel
some of it back into my latest money-making scheme. We were on a winning
streak. And when you’ve got the enemy –in this case, the bookmakers – pinned
down, keep on firing, that’s what I say.
I reasoned I wouldn’t be feeding my
addiction. I’d be feeding the trainer, his wife and kids and several members of
his staff. And in any event, I’d only be betting on our nag. There was no way
I’d let myself lapse back into betting on the previous gargantuan scale that
had almost put me on my uppers. Anyway, that was my reasoning.
There’s always been a strong betting culture
in the sport. After all, what is there to do after training in the afternoons?
The local betting shop was a natural – and welcoming – venue.
I’d lost thousands on the nags over the years
and I thought a little inside knowledge wouldn’t go amiss. It would cost, of
course, but the best information always did. Just like the best cocaine. You
always got what you paid for. Cutting corners had never been in my nature.
And we might end up in the winner’s enclosure
at somewhere like Royal Ascot, kitted out in top hat and tails. Or maybe,
Southwell on a freezing winter’s day wearing flat caps and thermals. A winner’s
a winner wherever. And you know what they say, 6-4 at Royal Ascot pays exactly
the same as 6-4 at Southwell.
I didn’t know where to start as far as buying
the beast was concerned and decided to scan the classifieds in the Racing Post
that Saturday. I spotted the name of an agent I’d read about over the years. He
regularly purchased winners although his percentage success rate was never
revealed. Strange that. The jocks’ and trainers’ stats were always available, not
the agents. But I pressed on. I won’t give the guy’s name. He might not want to
be associated with someone with my track record. So, for the purposes of this
book, let’s call him James.
First, I checked him out with a couple of
mates in another Prem team who I remembered had used him not too long ago.
‘Genuine’ came back the reply from the pair of them. They liked the guy even
though he’d sold them a pup – and I’m not talking a young greyhound here! Their
horse had never won for them, but had been placed in a couple of good-class
races and, what the heck, they’d had some fun at a few of the classier
racetracks.By now I had roped in Hollow, Wheezy and
Simmo. I wouldn’t say I had to drag them screaming into racehorse ownership,
but let’s say they were a little bit reluctant at first. Until I pointed out
what we’d gone through in the past few months and that they needed to let their
hair down although in Hollow’s case that wouldn’t be possible as he was losing
it faster than I used to lose my dosh in the local betting shop.
Once we – or rather I – had sorted out that
we’d be four equal partners, I gave James a ring on his mobile. Funnily enough,
he was on his way to the sales at Newmarket. How much did I want to spend? Talk
about cutting to the car chase. But I liked his directness and told him we had
£100,000 in the pot. I felt sure that would buy us something with half a
chance. James said for that money he would be able to find us something we
‘could have a bit of fun with’. It sounded like he was just off to Hamleys down
the West End to buy us an expensive train set! But we were off and running. Or
at least James was.
Later that day I got a call from James who
said he bought us a really nice colt with impeccable breeding. “How much did it
cost?” I asked. “Well, with my commission and other bits and bobs, exactly
Why wasn’t I surprised that James had gone
and spent the lot. I thought we’d have a few thou left to pay off the first six
months training fees. I suppose I should have told we only had £90,000 to
spend. Maybe next time, I thought.
“That’s great,” I said. And when he’d given
me details of the breeding I began to get more and more excited. There was an
Epsom Derby winner on the sire’s side and a half-sister to an Irish St Leger
winner on the dam’s side.
Whatever, else, the damn thing would stay
longer than the mother-in-law!
He certainly wouldn’t be an early
two-year-old. So I explained to my fellow-owners that we’d have to be a little
Now all we had to do was find a trainer,
register our colours and we’d be on our way.
It just so happened that James’s
brother-in-law (whom I shall call Martin for reasons of discretion) trained in
Newmarket. Now that was handy wasn’t it? Not knowing many other animal trainers
outside of the travelling circus that came to town every Easter during my
childhood, I went along with James’s ‘kind’ offer.
Next step would be to get the horse from the
sales to Martin’s yard. It was about three-quarters of a mile from the sales
complex – six furlongs in horsey language – but despite being an
‘athletic-looking sort’ as James had described, the poor beast wasn’t able to
walk that far. My God, if he couldn’t walk six furlongs how was he going to
gallop a mile and a half? Anyway, the transportation would cost a little extra.
Of course, James knew a firm that would do the job. And, of course, he was
getting his little cut for each piece of advice. This time it was Martin’s
sister’s boyfriend who ran the transport company. “You can trust him with your
life,” James assured me. Who was I to argue?
Eventually, when all the cheques had been
signed and apportioned, our horse – totally oblivious to how much he cost and
what high hopes we held for him – was safely settled in his new home.
I took the three likely lads to see him in
Newmarket. As a regular punter I was more at home in some seedy betting shop,
but even I recognised that Newmarket was the centre of England’s Flat racing
universe. Housed within its flat, almost shapeless contours was a collection of
thoroughbreds worth many millions of pounds. Driving through the gates of
James’ yard, I couldn’t help but feel a frisson of excitement although I’m not
too sure the others shared my feelings. They were probably totting up,
mentally, just how much they had already spent. And that was without travelling
and entry costs and any vets’ fees the animal might clock up in the next one or
Of course, insurance was too expensive to
even consider so a false step on the gallops could end it all. But I banished
such thoughts from my mind as James greeted us at the door accompanied by two
Wearing the trainer’s uniform which included
those must-haves of flat cap, jacket and jodhpurs, James invited us all in for
a hearty full English.
Our healthy eating regimen went out of the
kitchen door as we tucked in, excitedly talking about our horse in between
Of course, the Derby in about five months was
the target – and on breeding and looks the four of us felt he would be in the
“Well, that’s a long way off,” said James.
“Let’s get him on the racecourse first and see what we’ve got. I agree he looks
the part but he was only broken a couple of weeks ago and has only had a
handful of half-speed gallops. So let’s not race before we can walk so to
“You’re the guv’nor James. That’s what we’re
paying your extortionate fees for,” I laughed. The others joined in and we got
back to clearing our plates.
Hollow asked for seconds as we expected. I
reckoned he was actually hollow and that anything he ate disappeared into the
black hole that passed as his stomach. Still he was a big lad. He was a
goalkeeper after all. In any event, he probably thought he was still growing; a
useful asset for a keeper, don’t you think.
After breakfast we all trooped into the yard
and were shown our horse in its box being got ready for its morning gallop. Then
we all piled into James’ battered Range Rover and drove out to the gallops.
Newmarket is as flat as my first girlfriend’s chest, but James managed to find
a slightly elevated spot where we watched our horse canter past us with a group
of his mates. Simmo had come up with the name Premier Ship and as none of us
could think up anything better – or in Wheezy’s case couldn’t be bothered – the
name sort of stuck and was duly registered with Weatherbys, racing’s admin
We clambered out of the warmth of the Range
Rover into the chill of a typical Newmarket morning and waited in anticipation
as Premier Ship sailed on by accompanied by three of his mates.
“I think he’s got everything,” said Wheezy.
“Four legs and a tail!”“They all look the same to me,” said Simmo as
James looked away in disgust.“He’s coming on nicely,” said James, ignoring
Wheezy and Simmo’s facetious remarks. “But he’ll need time. He’s very
immature.”“Just like you,” I said turning to Wheezy.“When will be ready to run?” I asked our
trainer.“Well, I’m not rushing him,” he replied.
“Five or six weeks at the earliest.”“That’s five or six weeks’ of training fees,”
said Hollow pointedly.
After another four or five lots had cantered
past our vantage point we climbed back into the car for the short journey back
to the yard.
I kept in touch with James through our weekly
phone call and as the weeks passed I could sense he was becoming more and more
pleased with the way Premier Ship was shaping up.
Eventually, about two months after our visit
and well into the new Flat season, he told me Premier Ship was ready to make
his debut. He found a race at his local track. The horse wouldn’t have far to
travel. Nor would we.
I felt more excited than when I’d made my own
Premiership debut. I couldn’t wait to tell the lads. I phoned round and told
them we were running at Newmarket a week on Wednesday. All Hollow, Simmo and
Wheezy wanted to know was ‘what chance have we got?’ I told them I had no idea.
“I don’t know what’s in against him,” I told
Wheezy. “Won’t know until later in the week when the entries come – and even
then we won’t know the final field until 48 hours before the race.
“Anyway, he’s probably only out for a
sighter.”“What’s a sighter?” asked Wheezy.
“Just out for a run so that he can get some
experience. It’s a bit like a practice match. We’ll see what he’s made of and
take it from there,” I replied.With his breeding, I felt there was little
chance of Premier Ship winning as a two-year-old. He’d need a trip, as they say
in racing circles, which means he would turn out to be a stayer rather than a
sprinter and that we wouldn’t see the best of him until his three-year-old
season, but I didn’t want to entirely crush the other lads’ hopes.
He’d have to run some races over five, six
and seven furlongs before being stepped up to a mile and beyond.
Naturally, the boys assumed he was a flying
machine and would be good enough, forward enough and, most importantly, quick
enough, to win first time out – before anyone got wind of just how good he was.
Well, that was the plan – or rather their dream. But gradually they were weaned
off the idea by both the horse and its trainer. I didn’t have to say too much.
Premier Ship even looked slow and ponderous in his early gallops even allowing
for his lack of experience.
And he didn’t get much better. After one of
our regular Monday morning trips to the gallops, Hollow opined: “I don’t know
about Premier Ship, he looks like an old boat to me!”
“He just needs time,” echoed me and the
trainer. It was the tried and trusted method used by trainers, syndicate bosses
and racing managers to explain away a complete waste of oats!
“He should be doing time for all money he’s
stolen off us,” said Wheezy.“C’mon guys, give the horse a break. I’m sure
he’s doing his best,” I urged them.“Yeh, but his best ain’t good enough,” said
Simmo – and he meant it.
Thankfully, a good pub lunch in one of the
many Newmarket hostelries restored their good humour and on the way home no one
even mentioned Premier Ship – thank God.
A few weeks later James rang to say that
Premier Ship was ready to run.
“I’m going to start him off over six furlongs
at Yarmouth next week, all being well,” he told me. “But I wouldn’t have too
high hopes,” said James as understated as ever. “He’s a slow-maturing type.”
“I thought he was just slow,” I quipped, but
there was no discernible ripple of amusement.“He’ll need more time and distance,” he said.
“You won’t see the best of him until his three-year-old season.”“Right,” I said. “Just let me know if you’re
declaring him to run. I think some of the lads will fancy a day at the
I couldn’t wait to tell the others that finally
they were going to see their colours on the racecourse.
I knew Premier Ship wasn’t going to be a
betting proposition, but I had something like £170,000 burning a hole in my
pocket. I had been a disciplined gambler, but I’d have to have a few quid on the
beast just for good luck. Well, my bet would bring the bookie good luck at
We all arrived in our best clobber come race
day and had supped plenty in the bar before Premier Ship was due to run in the
second race at 2.20.
He should have started in the 1.50 because he
barely got going. He had a slow start, a slow middle and an even slower ending,
trailing in last of the seven starters.
We weren’t best pleased to say the least but
dear, old James described it as an “educational run”.
“Yeh,” said Simmo, “we all learned something
today – he’s useless!”“That’s unfair,” said James. “We’ve all got
to be patient.”
Well, we were and three races later and his
two-year-old season done and dusted, Premier Ship had added a seventh of nine,
a ninth of thirteen and a fourth. But don’t get too carried away with fourth –
there were only four runners!
He stepped up from six furlongs to a mile and
a quarter, but all the time James was telling us: “He really needs a trip.”
To the knacker’s yard, I thought.
The three-year-old season followed almost the
same pattern. Premier Ship went further and further, ending the campaign
racing, if that’s the right word, over a mile and six.
Even James admitted he wasn’t quick enough to
win on the Flat. So a new career over hurdles beckoned. But first he had to
have his wedding tackle removed. It was painless – for us! Apart from the few
hundred quid in vet’s fees.
It seemed to concentrate his mind – or what
passed for a mind – and he actually seemed to like hopping over a few practice
hurdles. By now we’d said our goodbyes to James and sent him to Lambourn to be
trained by a well-known jumps trainer whose name wasn’t Mark, but that’s what
we’ll call him for the purposes of this book.
That early promise didn’t translate any winning
performances over hurdles and we were all, Mark included, scratching are heads
as to what to do with our expensive purchase.
As far as punting was concerned I was having
a few quid on ‘for luck’ although I wasn’t finding any and those losses stirred
those old feelings I used to have when I was punting regularly.
I’d vowed not to punt except on Premier Ship
but it wasn’t a strategy that was likely to work for someone as feeble-minded
(when it came to betting) as I was.
I was slipping back down the old, greasy
pole. I was having little, almost meaningless, bets here and there on the sly.Then, almost inevitably, I was chasing those
losses which led bigger and more meaningful bets. You have now idea how much
cash you can eat into if you’re betting every day of the week.
But what of Premier Ship? As I’ve said there
some early signs that he might have been good enough to pick up a novice
hurdle. Certainly, on breeding I’m surprised he even deigned to race against
some of the cheap, lower-class rivals he was now being forced to compete with.
Mark suggested a last resort. “Not Yarmouth
again,” I said. Just like James last season, he ignored my attempted joke.
“There’s a claimer at Fontwell. I think he
could go very close.”“How close?” I asked.“Close enough to win it,” replied Mark with a
certain amount of assurance. “I’ll put him in with a reasonable weight. Of
course, you could lose him you know.”“I’m well aware of that. But I don’t think
the boys would worry too much. They thought they’d be hiring morning suits for
Royal Ascot or Epsom when we bought him, not slumming it round Fontwell. Enter
him up. Let’s try to go out in a blaze of glory. I might even win some of my
The big day – if you can call an afternoon’s
racing at Plumpton a big day – finally dawned the following week. It was
throwing it down outside but the loyal syndicate members were all on parade.
He was slap bang in the middle of the weights
and on his earlier form he did look thrown in – if he could reproduce it.
In the ring he was trading at 5-2 and 11-4.
Naturally, I was looking for 3-1. Eventually, I got it all on in dribs and
drabs at 3-1, 11-4 and 5-2. The betting gates opened and before long I’d
somehow got £150,000 down altogether to win approximately £400,000. I’d always
worked out my returns before any race so that I didn’t make a mistake when
collecting although other punters told me it was bad luck. It had been tough to
place such an extraordinary amount on a budget race such as this. However,
Betfair was incredibly ‘liquid’ by this time and at the click of a button a
large proportion had been matched by the phone operator. If I could have seen
it, my account would have shown a colossal ‘green’ figure next to my horse with
seven large ‘red’ figures alongside the seven other horses.
On this occasion they were right. Premier
Ship got beaten a short head. He hated sloshing through the mud and it was only
his class – remember he was bred to win a Derby – that got him so close to the
winner who was picked up at the sales recently for the princely sum of three
He may well have run his heart out. I knew
that and Mark knew that, but trying telling that to Hollow, Simmo and Wheezy.
Luckily, before I needed to there was an
announcement of the Tannoy that our trainer should report to the stewards. Thankfully,
someone had claimed Premier Ship and the stewards wanted Mark to sign the
paperwork. Three grand as well. Like that was going to help. Split four ways, I
considered throwing it down the gutter which of course figuratively I had done
As Premier Ship was Mark’s only runner at the
meeting, it meant that one the way home his horsebox would be as empty as my
wallet and more importantly my Betfair account.
Still, once we had settled up our final bill,
the syndicate wouldn’t have any more money to chuck down the drain. Premier
Ship was someone else’s responsibility now – and good luck to them.
I certainly didn’t want to repeat the
cash-draining exercise and I knew, without asking them, that Hollow, Simmo and
Wheezy would be glad to end their association with Sport of Kings. Their hearts
were never really in it from day one.
It would have been nice to have shut the
stable door after the horse had bolted in, but it wasn’t to be.