Barney Curley, the Northern Irish bettor, former racehorse owner and mastermind of the one of the biggest ‘betting coups’ in the history of the sport, passed away on Sunday at the age of 81.
The punter, born on 5 October 1939 in County Fermanagh, was best known for his role in planning the Yellow Sam coup of 25 June 1975 at Bellewstown racecourse.
Winning the race at 20/1, Yellow Sam – described by Curley as ‘one of the worst horses I’ve ever owned’ – secured winnings of over £2 million when adjusted for inflation.
The coup was orchestrated by blocking access to the only public telephone at the track, denying off-course firms their lifeline for bets. Barney then watched the race from behind a bush as his outsider secured a mammoth win.
A range of horse racing figures expressed their condolences on Sunday night via Twitter, including 20-time champion jockey AP McCoy, Grand National, Gold Cup and Royal Ascot winning trainer Jonjo O’Neill, and ITV and Sky Sports Racing pundit Matt Chapman.
Very sad to hear that Barney Curley has passed away. Feel lucky to have enjoyed his company a man with well founded legendary status as a trainer/gambler, but one who also raised lots for the charity Direct Aid for Africa. RIP
— AP McCoy (@AP_McCoy) May 23, 2021
Very sorry to hear the sad news that Barney Curley has died.
One of racing’s great characters. RIP.
— Jonjo O'Neill (@JonjoONeill) May 23, 2021
Outside of the famous betting coup, Curley also trained two Cheltenham Gold Cup winners in Silver Buck and Forgive ‘n Forget, whilst also seizing the Imperial Cup with Magic Combination at Newmarket in 2000.
Notable jockeys to have saddled up on Curley’s horses included Frankie Dettori, Jamie Spencer, Tom Queally, Tommy Carmody and Declan Murphy, with the trainer claiming his last win in 2012.
One of the men who made racing a fascination by being fascinating. Barney Curley #rip
— Matt Chapman (@MCYeeehaaa) May 23, 2021
Quoted by the Racing Post, Queally remarked: “Apart from my family and my parents there has been no greater influence on my life or my career than Barney Curley and there are no ifs, buts or maybes about that.
“I rode in Britain and for the first year I wasn’t allowed to do an interview and I know the press might not get on with me now, but he did that to protect me. He made me think in a theological way and made me think outside the box.”
He added: “He had the sharpest brain in the game – end of. He knew what he wanted, where he was and where he was going. One of the things I’m most proud of is [that] I rode for him consistently from the time I came over to the time he stopped training.”