Famous Betting Coups: Yellow Sam and the Single Phone Line

When you go to the track or visit a casino, you dream of winning big. You’re sure that there is that one lucky number or horse that will change your luck. Throughout time, there have been people who made their own luck through famous betting coups. There’s almost something romantic about these players who went around the system to try and win big. In some cases, they won big and in others, they found themselves in hot water. Here’s how one of these famous betting coups went down.


“Yellow Sam” and the Players

In 1970s, Barney Curley was a professional gambler with an idea of a way to win big. Curley’s father had practically bankrupted the family with his gambling on dogs. It took two years for Barney and his dad working night and day to pay off the debts. Afterwards, Barney found his own niche in gambling on horses. Unlike his father, the younger Curley found a livelihood from gambling but wanted more. He bought a horse named Yellow Sam.

Liam Brennan was the trainer of Yellow Sam employed by Curley. It was his responsibility to train the horse and determine the best races for the horse to participate in. Benny O’Hanlon was a close personal friend of Curley’s and played an important part in the coup.


The Coup

Curley instructed Brennan to run Yellow Sam in races and conditions, where they knew he wouldn’t do well. It was their hope to get the horse a lighter handicap in the Bellewstown summer festival. It was always Curley’s goal for the horse to win at the National Hunt race at Bellewstown, where amateur jockeys rode the horses. It worked.

On the day of the race, Yellow Sam’s odds were 20/1. Of course, large bets favoring Yellow Sam to win would quickly lower those odds, which is why Curley had many of his friends ready to place bets at various betting establishments around the country. Each of the friends had between 50 and 300 British pounds to bet and an envelope with instructions. Curley called a handful of them and instructed them to each call additional betters to open the envelopes before handing the phone over to O’Hanlon.


The Single Phone Line

The National Hunt race at Bellewstown was unique because the venue had only a single public phone line, and there were not any private lines. O’Hanlon claimed to need to get ahold of a sick aunt. By keeping the phone occupied, the men kept the racetrack from learning about the bets being made around the country and kept the odds at 20/1. It was the bookies at the racetrack with information from outside sources that set the odds. By keeping the phone line tied up, the bookies had no way of knowing about the large number of bets favoring Yellow Sam to win.


The Race

During the race, Curley hid in some bushes to watch the race and keep the bookies from realizing he was there and raising questions. After winning the race by two and a half lengths, bookies from around the country had to pay out the winnings. Rumor has it that many of the bets were paid with single notes and that it took more than 100 bags to hold all of the winnings. He won more than £300,000 – which is about £1.5 million in today’s money.

At the time of the coup, there was nothing illegal about what the participants had done. In the following years, a rule was established that bets over £100 had to be made at least half an hour before the start of the race. Curley opened his own stables with the winnings and made a few more coups throughout the years.


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