Barney Curley is what you would consider a professional
gambler, especially when it came to betting on horse races.
Curley was so obsessed with racing horses that he went on to buy
several different winning racehorses in his time, with his most
prominent being, Yellow Sam.
Curley managed to pull off the greatest betting coups of all
time, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue along the way.
The various coups made Curley a sensation not only in Ireland,
but all across Europe as well.
Bernard “Barney” Curley was born in County Fermanagh, Ireland
in 1939. His father, Charlie, was an avid gambler. He typically
spent the majority of his money betting on dog races, so I guess
it’s safe to say that a love for gambling runs in the family.
After graduating from a small Irish boarding school, Curley
went to work in an English factor to help support his family,
but his ultimate goal was to become a Jesuit priest. After
dedicating four long years to accomplishing that goal, he
realized it wasn’t for him and he quickly moved on to
His bookmaking skills were subpar to say the least, but it
did give him a better understanding of gambling that would help
him in the years to come. Curley started gambling on and off
until his first significant winning bet on a horse called, Little Tim, inspiring him to devote his life to becoming a
Yellow Sam Betting Coup
Yellow Sam was one of the first horses that Curley ever
bought, but he had a plan that would turn this racehorse into
his ticket to endless riches. On the day of the race, Yellow
Sam’s starting price was 20–1, giving Curley a lot of room to
make a profit. If it became known that large sums of money were
being placed on the horse, those numbers would change
drastically but Curley had a plan.
It was for this reason that Curley chose to race Yellow Sam
at the racecourse in Bellewstown specifically, as the track was
serviced by just two telephone lines. About half way through the
day one of the lines usually goes down, leaving just one
available line. Curley had a friend pretend to be on a prolonged
call to his aunt that was dying of cancer in order to block any
attempts from off-course bookmakers that wanted to cut Yellow
Sam’s starting price.
Dozens of Curley’s friends and paid accomplices waited in
bookmaker’s shops across the country with money to place bets
ranging from between $75 to $450. None of his helpers knew
beforehand which horse they were selecting or which run they
would be competing in, as Curley made sure the bets were tightly
sealed in envelops that were not allowed to be opened until
Curley called them.
Curley called many of his people several hours before the
race, but he also had a handful of people wait until the last
ten minutes before the race started. In total, Curley invested
his entire life savings of $22,000 that day on the racecourse.
Wanting so desperately to see the race first-hand, he crept into
the center of the course and watched the race conspicuously. You
see, he had already earned himself quite a reputation when it
came to racehorses and he was afraid his presence would draw
It was a beautiful race to watch, as Yellow Sam gracefully
leaped over the 13-hurdles and won by two and a half lengths.
Since Curley hadn’t done anything illegal, the bookmakers were
forced to pay out the full $450,000. Yellow Sam continued to run
in other races and before he retired, Curley won over $1.3
million dollars on him before he retired. After Curley’s initial
coup, Irish bookmakers instated a new rule which made any bets
over $150 that are not placed at least a half an hour before the
race to be considered invalid.
A Four Horse Comeback
After winning an unfathomable amount of money for that time
period, Curley opened a stable of horses that were trained to
compete in various races across Europe. He also purchased
his dream home in Mullingar, County Westmeath, which he shared
with his wife, Maureen and his son, Charlie.
Now that bets can be made online and people can communicate
through email and smart phones, pulling off a win like that
seemed almost unattainable, but Curley was up for the challenge.
Curley tried the inevitable, matching four of his horses to four
different races on the same day.
Curley changed his mind several times but he finally decided
on selecting Agapanthus to race at Brighton, Savaronola and
Sommersturm to race at Wolverhampton, and Jeu De Roseau to race
at Towcester. The odds were certainly against him, as only one
of those horses had ever won an event prior to that day.
Three out of the four horses he bet on placed first on their
races, and it was actually, Sommersturm, who was supposed to be
a surefire win that ended up finishing sixth. Curley still won
an impressive $5.5 million, despite the initial loss.
Any normal person would have been ecstatic about this win,
but Curley barely broke s sweat during the whole thing, “I don’t
have much regard for money. It was always the challenge, nothing
else,” Curley exclaimed one time after a race.
In 1995, he lost his teenage son to a fatal car accident.
Every since then, he devoted his life to a charity he had set up
in Zambia with his son before he passed. His wife, Maureen, is
very supportive of her husband, and although the loss of their
son was hard for both of them, their relationship grew stronger
because of it.
By the time Curley turned seventy years old, he was ready for
a change of pace. He became the manager for the pop band,
Frankie McBride and The Polka Dots, which was one of the first
Irish bands that made it to the British Top 20.
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