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Do Curley's coups have a deeper motive? Observations.


BARNEY CURLEY is unique in racing. Indeed, he's unique in sport. You might even go so far as to say there's no-one quite like him on the planet; no-one in possession of the same cloak and dagger, no-one who feels just as comfortable in the saintly robe. Perhaps there's a shaven-headed monk somewhere in the Shaolin monastery who shares his combination of deviousness and innocence. But could even he, if he exists, match Bernard Curley for inscrutability?

Barney is not scrutable. His father found that out, or rather didn't, when he sent his then 11-year-old to the chemist to get a potion that was supposed to stop a greyhound.

Reasoning that if the potion was required then the dog must be fast, the boy declined to administer it but backed it to win instead. Then he said not a word, just considered his winnings, as his father marched to the pharmacy to exact terrible retribution.

Barney doesn't just play cards close to the chest. He plays them inside the vest. That's why he causes such panic every time he has a runner. He's had two in the last couple of weeks from his string of only nine horses. (Nine! You'd think he had nearer 90). In both cases their appearance on the course had the same effect on the markets as the presentation at the hencoop of the card of an immaculately waistcoated Mr Fox.

One was Faraday, who'd been beaten a total of more than 87 lengths in his three previous outings.

Faraday was backed from a high of 6-1 to 5-4, and won running away.

The other was Me Fein, which means 'myself alone' in Irish. Me Fein had beaten just one home in his three races, all of them at trips inappropriate for a horse of his breeding.

Again the money came for him like a 16-ton weight, and again the weight dropped on the head of anyone who dared to lay him as Me Fein strolled home without any hint of effort.

They say that for a true coup you need to have at least a stone in hand. Barney likes to be on the safe side, and make that two if he can.

Me Fein is not an appropriate description of his motivation, though. No-one knows how much of what he wins goes to Dafa, the charity he founded and that - I promise you because I've seen it - achieves extraordinary results in easing suffering in Aids-riddled Zambia. No-one knows either whether he's actually trying to prove something by these examples of how, if you play to the letter of the rules rather than to their spirit, you can demonstrate their utter absurdity.

It may have been forgotten now that a few months ago Barney declared war. Not war on racing, but war on those for whose benefit he believes racing is being run, namely - and who's to say he's wrong? - the big bookmakers and the courses.

As part of his campaign he launched a series of sermons/analyses/tirades on the Dafa website. What are they about?

I wouldn't presume to try to tell you.

His thoughts are not susceptible to synthesis. You can find them on and decide for yourself.

Meanwhile, the coups continue, although one supposes they must be finite with so small a string. There's no rule that says a horse can't run when he isn't fit; no rule that says he can't run at the wrong trip; no rule either that says you can't make a feint with a horse: give people the impression he might be 'off' today when really he is not. Those who want Barney banned are wasting their time as long as he stays within the rules. Those who hero-worship him will continue to do so.

A thought occurs about the coups, though. Obviously they're designed to make money, for Barney himself as well as for the kids in Africa. But are they only about money? Are they perhaps, war by other means?

THOSE who defend Variety Club day at Sandown are probably right to do so. It doesn't do much harm and it raises money for good causes. They're wrong, though, to think that the real objection to the day is the appearance on racecourses of Z-list celebrities, has-beens and never-wozzers. The objection is to the way the day is covered by Channel 4. I could go on, but I do not trust myself anymore.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 2, 2007
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