How To Be A Betting ‘Investor’

| May 9, 2016 | Reply

After a short break, bookie turned bettor John Trent is back with the next in his series of Betting rant articles.

Enjoy and if you have any comments or questions for John, you can reach us at

-Matt Houghton


Hello again. I’m sorry about the delay in getting this article to you but sometimes things just get in the way of life…

If I remember correctly, I promised to give you an insight into betting ‘investors’ and how they differ from the vast crowd of ‘punters’.

The primary difference between them is that the investor tends to win and win large!

As to how they do it, well, there are essentially two types of such people. Both are professional. That is, both tend to make most, if not all, of their income from betting.

This has a major advantage for them because winnings from gambling do not count as income as far as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are concerned (unless, of course, you are a bookmaker!)

In this article I’m going to deal with one of the two types and that’s because it’s the most colourful and also because you might recognise some of the names involved.

This type is the lone ‘big bettor’. These are men who bet thousands of pounds at a time and, as I said, generally win.

Of course, as we will see, they do sometimes lose. But they factor in the losses against their winnings and overall make a very nice profit. There is one exception to this rule that I know of and I’ll get to him later…

Oh, by the way, I’ve yet to meet a professional woman horse racing gambler although I am aware that such ladies do exist in other betting fields, for example Victoria Cohen-Mitchell was a very successful poker player.


The first person to mention is someone you have probably heard of, especially if, like me, you are of a certain age. The gentleman in question was Phil Bull who sadly died in 1989.

Phil was a bluff Yorkshireman who went to university to study maths. But although he was a gifted mathematician he was already a horse racing enthusiast. As such he developed his own system, based on race times, with which he proceeded to win large sums from bookmakers…

From those early experiments he started to sell his ratings under the name of ‘Temple Time Test’. Later he joined with Dick Whitford and set up the famed ‘Timeform’ which is now owned by Betfair.

However, that didn’t stop him gambling and it was a common occurrence to see him at a racecourse placing bets of many thousands of pounds with ringside bookmakers. Phil was an investor in that his betting was based on factual information obtained from a lot of study.


The next person on my list is someone I met on a number of occasions when he used to breeze into our office to place a large bet in person…

That was Barney Curley, a man curiously misnamed as he was so bald you could have stamped a little lion on his head and he could have hidden in a box of large free-range.

Barney is a racing ‘character’. He came to public attention when he organised the famous ‘Yellow Sam’ betting coup in 1975…

This was where Yellow Sam, owned by Curley, an under handicapped horse, was entered in a National Hunt race in Bellewstown in Ireland being contested by largely amateur jockeys.

As you are aware, the starting price of the horse would be governed by a calculation on the prices being offered by on course bookmakers. Yellow Sam was priced at 20/1.

The course only had two telephone lines – one for the Extel ‘blower’ system and one public call box. Somehow the Extel line stopped working. A friend of Barney’s went into the call box and pretended to be calling his dying aunt in hospital. He was so convincing in this that he was able to stay in the phone box for over half an hour, stopping any incoming calls.

That was necessary because Barney had arranged a very large number of people across the country to bet sums of £50 upwards in bookmakers’ shops. The money started to go on from about 20 minutes before the start of the race and the off-course bookmakers were unable to get in touch with the on course representatives to bring the price down.

Barney, who was well-known as a professional bettor, hid on the racecourse so as not to give the game away. He had invested about 15,000 Irish pounds, all the money he had in the world. Yellow Sam won by two and a half lengths.

As there was nothing illegal about the coup the bookmakers had to pay out the full 300,000 pounds (about 2 million Euros at current rates). It also made Barney well-known and featured on the TV and in the papers in Ireland and the UK.

He kept Yellow Sam and reportedly won over £700,000 on him before the horse was retired. He also trained horses which were known to be taking part in specific gambles. He had two more well-known coups, one in 2010 which made over £1 million and one in 2014 which was a four horse accumulator in which the ante-post prices returned 9000-1.

Despite hammering the bookies, whenever he can he funds a charity in Zambia that he set up after the death of his son in 1995. Sheik Mohammed was known to have donated £2.5 million to it. Barney is the sort of investor who sets out a plan to win, takes his time and then pounces. He doesn’t bet often but when he does…


The last person I’m going to mention is Harry ‘The Dog’ Findlay.

I worked alongside Harry for a short period around 1990. In fact I actually lent him £200 to have a bet on a dog because he was skint at the time!

Harry used to be a great champion of Betfair but now rails against its 5% charge to winners. Indeed in December 2006 Harry said:

“One of the main reasons why I’m pro exchanges is because of the moral argument. You can check how much you’re losing, it stops the lies, there’s no credit. But Betfair lets itself down by charging people between 5% and 2%, depending on how much they bet – which encourages them to bet more than they otherwise would

“I have paid so far this year, to the start of this month, £714,000 commission, and I’m on 2%. I would rather pay 2.5% and have everyone pay 2.5% and give ordinary punters a chance.”

Note that he paid over £700,000 commission in that year, which gives you some idea of how much he turns over. You may recognise his name as being part owner of Denman the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in 2008.

Harry would bet on anything. Dogs, horses, football, tennis, you name it he’d probably bet on it. The trouble was his inconsistency, going from massive wins to massive losses and back again. For example, in 2007, he lost £2.5 million on the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup. His lowest point – going bankrupt in 2013.

All these three were professional gamblers. You could probably name others: Patrick Veitch, Tony Ansell, Alex Bird, Mike Quigley, J P McManus, Clive Holt, Alan Potts, the list goes on. And the thing they all have in common? They are ‘old-school’ professionals. Next time I’ll introduce you to the ‘new-school’…

Oh, and Harry Findlay’s dog lost. But he paid me back and I have the feeling, and the hope, that he’ll recover from his bankruptcy and be seen back betting again.

Remember, bet carefully.

– John Trent


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