Life Story of Barney Curley
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 bookmaking.
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 professional gambler.
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 suspicion.
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.
Author: Nicole Miller
Updated: October 2016