The Shadow: a gambler's tale

I found this old posting from 22nd May, 2008. It gives a fascinating insight about some of the UK's most influential gamblers: their character, speciality, wagers and trials and tribulations. 

Great racing days stick in the memory usually because great bets were struck and won or lost and that in turn starts me off recalling all the great gamblers I have known over the years. Some of the big pro gamblers I have only known casually but others have been close personal friends. 

The heaviest gambler I have met is probably J P McManus but I have only known him just enough to be on nodding terms and because so many of his huge punts have been very secret the buzz of seeing him in action scaring the pants off the bookies was not as high profile as most of the others of his kind.

Much more high profile was Alec Bird whose speciality was place only betting. His standard bet was two hundred grand place only on a red hot favourite. He would be quite happy with a ten percent return on his money. 

The shrewdest professional gambler I have known is the legendary Phil Bull the founder of Timeform. So knowledgeable and so thorough was Phil’s grasp of every aspect of racing and gambling that unlike any other pro gambler I have ever met or heard about, he would be quite happy to chew on his cigar, sip his glass of champagne and have a bet on every race on the card. To Phil, it was simply the challenge of solving a very complex puzzle, the amounts he won were of no consequence whatsoever to him.

Probably the nicest big punter on the racecourses today is good old Barney Curley. Barney is a lovely man, frail and showing his age these days but he is approachable and friendly as always. He has a trainer’s licence these days of course and he still put the fear of the Almighty through the betting ring when one of his runners looks to be a Barney Curley special. 

The maddest, wildest and the most reckless gambler I have ever known is my friend and once East End gangster knew far and wide as “H”. Those who have been around the East End as long as I have will know just who I mean. H is two years younger than I am and these days he is flat broke living in a housing association studio flat in Loughton, passing the time while he waits for a liver transplant looking after the gardens of the flats he lives in. I know personally and for certain that he lost millions on the horses and dogs. I myself got down fifty grand in cash for him rushing round the betting shops of the East End getting a grand here and two grand there on a hoss called Admiral’s Cup. I got the last two grand down in a shop in Canning Town just in time to see it get beat a short head. He never turned a hair. The story about H I have told before is when he and his wife and me and my wife were invited to Ladies Day at Ascot many years ago. I looked respectable in a morning suit and a topper and our wives looked gorgeous but H turned up in a morning suit and topper but wearing his lucky black bootlace tie with its solid gold steer head fastener. The Jobsworths on the entrance to the Royal Enclosure copped the nark to H’s tie and would not let him in. H went berserk and stormed off to Tattersalls where he proceeded to try to wipe out every bookie with massive stupid bets. He must have been nearly half a million quid down by the last race when he persuaded one of the big chain bookies to let him lay a bet of two hundred and fifty grand on a hoss called Kris at even money. This time, his hoss won by the shortest of short heads and a wait of about five minutes while they magnified the photo finish. Once again he never turned a hair. Not the slightest sign of emotion. Now he cuts grass and prunes rose bushes for old ladies for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

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