What became known as the ‘Gay Future Affair’ was an ingenious, but ultimately unsuccessful, betting coup that was attempted at Cartmel Racecourse in Cumbria, North West England on Bank Holiday Monday, August 26, 1974. Cartmel was chosen because, at the time, it was not connected to the ‘Blower’ telephone service for bookmakers operated by the Exchange Telegraph Company.
Masterminded by Cork construction magnate Tony Murphy, the attempted coup involved two horses, the ‘real’ Gay Future, who was trained in Tipperary by Edward O’Grady, and another four-year-old chestnut gelding, who was sent to permit-holder Tony Collins in Troon, Scotland, with counterfeit documents identifying him as Gay Future. Collins was instructed to enter Gay Future in the Ulverston Novices’ Hurdle at Cartmel and two days before the race, the bona fide Gay Future was shipped across the Irish Sea and placed in Collins’ charge.
Collins was similarly instructed to enter two other horses, Ankerwyke at Southwell and Opera Cloak at Plumpton, although neither was an intended runner. On the morning of the race, Murphy and his associates placed a series of multiple bets on the three Collins-trained runners which, after the withdrawal of Ankerwyke and Opera Cloak, became single win bets on Gay Future. Gay Future won easily, by 15 lengths, at a generous starting price of 10/1, but bookmakers, for the most part, refused to pay out.
The name of Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori became synonymous with that of Ascot Racecourse when, on September 28, 1996, the Italian jockey completed his so-called ‘Magnificent Seven’ by winning all seven races on the Festival of British Racing card. Dettori, 49, rode his first Royal Ascot winner, Markofdistinction, in the Queen Anne Stakes, in 1990 and 30 years later, in 2020, hit the headlines once again at the Royal Meeting.
Quoted at 20/1 to win the Royal Ascot Leading Jockey Award before the start of the fifth and final day, Dettori completed a 150/1 treble, courtesy of Campanelle in the Queen Mary Stakes, Alpine Star in the Coronation Stakes and Palace Pier in the St. James’s Palace Stakes. In so doing, he took his winning tally to six for the week, edging out Jim Crowley on placings, to win his second consecutive title and his seventh in all. Furthermore, Dettori took his career total at Royal Ascot to 73 winners, making him the joint-second most successful jockey at the prestigious meeting, alongside the late Pat Eddery and behind only the legendary Lester Piggott; Piggott retired from race riding in 1995, long before the Royal Meeting was extended to five days in 2002, but still rode an astonishing 116 winners.
Each racecourse in Britain is officially graded 1, 2, 3 or 4, depending on the General Prize Find (GPF) grant it receives from the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB). The HBLB is a statutory body, established by the Betting Levy Act 1961, which annually collects a percentage of bookmakers’ gross profit from horse racing as the so-called Horserace Betting Levy.
General Prize Fund (GPF) grants, which must be paid out as prize money, are calculated annually based on the Executive Contribution (EC), or ‘merit’ – that is, the amount of prize money contributed by the racecourse authority – and the amount of off-course betting turnover generated by fixtures in the last three years for which figures are available.
Essentially, the higher the GPF grant, the higher the grade of the racecourse. Newmarket, for example, which stages nine Group One races during the season, received just over £2 million in 2018 and is classified as Grade 1. By contrast, Carlisle, which stages just one Class 1 race – the Listed Eternal Stakes, worth just shy of £40,000 in total prize money – received just over £165,000 in 2018 and is classified as Grade 4. Note that the grade of a racecourse does not, necessarily, reflect the standard of the facilities available for owners, trainers, jockeys or the racing public, but it is not unreasonable to expect a gulf between the best and the worst, consummate with the grade.
Horse racing on synthetic surfaces, popularly known as ‘all-weather’ racing, was first mooted in Britain after the very cold, snowy winter of 1984/85, which resulted in a raft of National Hunt fixtures being abandoned. In early 1987, the Jockey Club, which preceded the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), received several proposals for all-weather tracks, but the first to be given an official stamp of approval was Lingfield Park, in late 1988. The first all-weather meeting at Lingfield Park was staged on Equitrack – that is, sand coated with oil-based polymers – on October 30, 1989. Shortly afterwards, Southwell, which had only received permission to install an all-weather track the previous June, staged its first meeting on November 8, 1989. Southwell chose Fibresand – that is, a mixture of sand particles and fine polypropylene fibres – as its racing surface, making it the first racecourse in the world to do so.
Four years later, on December 27, 1993, Wolverhampton had the distinction of staging the first floodlit fixture in Britain, also on Fibresand. On March 26, 2006, Kempton Park staged its first meeting on Polytrack – that is, a wax-coated mixture of sand and recycled synthetic fibres, rubber and PVC – and a year later was joined, albeit briefly, on the all-weather roster by the ill-fated Great Leighs (later renamed Chelmsford City). On August 11, 2015, Wolverhampton had the further distinction of becoming the first racecourse in Britain to install Tapeta – that is, an enhanced vesrion of Polytrack, designed to mimic the root structure of natural turf – and was joined a year later by Newcastle, which staged its first meeting on Tapeta on May 17, 2016.