The scandals that tarnished the sport of kings

By Dan Buckley
ALLEGATIONS of corruption in horse racing are just another twist in a long line of scandals which have blighted the sport.

Prison sentences, illegal betting coups, question marks over doping offences and cheating at race courses across Britain and Ireland have all occurred over the last 30 years.

The most famous coup in racing history was the Gay Future affair in 1974 involving Tony Murphy, a millionaire Cork builder and racehorse owner, Tony Collins, a small-time Scottish trainer with influential friends, and many big time Irish punters.

The coup, which rocked the British racing establishment, was engineered by Murphy, a flamboyant and affable racing lover who drove a gold Rolls Royce and had a liking for fine cigars.

Gay Future was brought over from Ireland and trained by Collins to a peak while another lookalike horse was paraded around his yard in Ayrshire pretending to be Gay Future and not the useless nag it really was.

Observers were fooled and Gay Future was given rotten reviews prior to running at the sleepy backwater track of Cartmel in the north of England. Collins had also entered two other horses, Opera Cloak and Ankerwyke, in races at other courses.

A vast number of small bets were laid, backing Gay Future for a double with either of the other two horses.

Both Opera Cloak and Ankerwyke were pulled out of their races, the double now became a single and, hence, a lot of money was riding on Gay Future.

Soapy flakes were then rubbed into the legs of Gay Future to give the impression the horse was sweating and keep on-track punters from backing it, holding its odds of 10-1.

Gay Future romped home by 15 lengths and Murphy and his friends would have netted about e3m in today’s money if bookmakers had not spotted the unusual betting patterns.

The huge number of Irish bets that were placed led Special Branch in Britain to think it was part of an IRA plot. Murphy and Collins were subsequently convicted of attempted fraud and fined £1,000 each. They were each banned from British racecourses for 10 years.

Such is racing’s love of a character like Tony Murphy that he became a national hero in Ireland, and a film called Murphy’s Stroke, starring Pierse Brosnan, was made about the scam.

At the trial in Preston, the judge, Mr Justice Caulfield, was unable to hide his admiration for both men. When the jury brought in a conviction, he said it would be absurd to regard Murphy as a fraudulent man and "wholly wrong to send him to prison."

The judge told him: "You have remained a sportsman to the end and there are many who would admire you for coming over to this country, acknowledging the jurisdiction of the court and facing the jury.

"I take that very much into account. You met it fairly and squarely and did not run away." The judge described Collins as "a man who has very fine qualities."

At the start of 1998, Jamie Osborne, Dean Gallagher and Leighton Aspell were arrested over allegations of race-fixing.

The inquiry leading to the arrests was launched following positive dope tests on two horses beaten at short odds in jumps races during March 1997.

Avanti Express, trained by Charlie Egerton, failed a drug test after coming in seventh when second favourite at 5-4 in a novice hurdle at Exeter on March 7.

The trio were all eventually cleared of the charges but the anti-corruption witch-hunt only briefly died down.

In the same year Irish racing was hit with a doping controversy when it was confirmed that the John Joe Walsh-trained Tobar Na Carraige was doped at Tralee on June 1.

Tobar Na Carraige, the fifth favourite, was pulled up in the Grace Handicap Hurdle, after which Walsh reported that he was concerned with the run.

Analysis confirmed that Acepromazine (ACP) had been given to the horse.

In February 2002, five stables were raided, including that of top trainer Martin Pipe, to take unannounced urine and blood samples for doping analysis.

The Jockey Club, which carried out the investigation, did not produce a single positive result from the test, backing up their claims that the sport was clean.

But trainers Osborne, Ferdy Murphy and David Wintle are currently under investigation by the Jockey Club.

In the BBC programme, Kenyon Confronts, aired last June, Osborne was approached by people purporting to be considering buying a horse from him. He was quoted as saying he was prepared to "cheat" and that he knew an in-house jockey who could be used to that effect.