Marten’s Perspective: Barney Curley – An Insight into ‘The Master’

September 21st, 2012 | Marten's Perspective

Barney Curley is, in my view, by far and away the most intriguing man in racing. What is more, that has been the case for many years and certainly throughout my career.

It is not widely known that Barney was associated for a short time with Gold Cup winner Silver Buck, while the coup he landed with Yellow Sam at Bellewstown in June 1975 has become the stuff of legend. I don’t need to go into the details at this point, but if you are not familiar with the story then there is a good account of it on Wikipedia. His winnings that day have been computed as the equivalent of £1.5 million.

Then, more recently, there was the day in May, 2010 when he landed his famous multiple bet, with Agapanthus winning at Brighton, Savaronola winning at Wolverhampton and Jeu De Roseau, trained by Chris Grant, winning at Towcester’s evening meeting.

Had the fourth leg Sommersturm done the job then the bookmakers would have reached their maximum payouts – something in the region of £20 million.

It is well documented that it was a while before Barney got paid in full if, indeed, the matter has been finally settled.

At various times Barney has declared that he is packing up training, often accompanying the news with a diatribe about the greed of bookmakers and the economic realities of keeping a horse in training.

He has been ably assisted in recent years by Andrew Stringer, a former northern jumps jockey and, for a short time, trainer. With a yard seldom housing more than a dozen inmates, Barney still seems to be acquiring the odd horse, often from Germany.

His heart is with DAFA – Direct Aid For Africa – a charity he founded in 1996. Barney has worked tirelessly, despite not having the best of health himself, to raise money for the cause. Many big names in racing have contributed generously, including Sheikh Mohammed.

However he still loves a tilt at the ring and I am now going to try and give a few clues to identifying a potential touch.

One of the things to look out for is a horse coming back from a lengthy break. There are obvious reasons why this can suit a horse – perhaps a little remedial work was needed in the interim – but it also allows the trainer to provide any number of reasons why the horse may have displayed an improvement in form if it wins.

Sir Mozart won a race at Wolverhampton by eight lengths in June having not raced since January. Me Fein did the business in March, 2010 – his first race for 15 months. On that famous day in May, 2010, Agapanthus was having his first race for four months.

The point is that a lengthy absence from the track should not deter you from respecting one of Barney’s horses.

With regard to market movements the situation seems to have changed a little in the last few seasons. There was a time when you would want to see a positive move on one of Barney’s horses but this no longer seems to be the case. Just this season Pindar won a race at Bath at 10’1 while a couple of his other winners have been relatively weak.

One of the great mysteries has been how or where Barney gets his money on. We know that the May 10 coup was well orchestrated, with Barney using “people I could trust”, as he put it. It seems that they were made up mainly of close friends and members of his extended family, who placed multiple combinations around betting shops and on internet sites.

However there has been the feeling recently that the money, or at least a proportion of it, is not getting to the track. In the old days when Barney was ‘on’ the price would go into freefall. I remember seeing that happen before Tusculum won at Kempton in February, 2009. That horse ended up 8’11 having been around 7’2 in the morning. I recall that his backers on Betfair couldn’t get enough of him, taking virtually anything offered up by the layers.

Yet Barney has probably ‘mellowed’ a little in recent times, to such extent that he is happy for his horses to run more openly. There are certainly a few exposed horses in his string – Elusive Hawk would be one.

My view is that Barney probably does not bet in the volumes that he once did. He still likes to scheme up a way to beat the bookmakers, but the days when he is prepared to steam into one of his horses at relatively short odds are probably now few and far between.

Something else to bear in mind is that even though Barney trains mostly for himself, even so he would not keep a horse in training unless he felt it capable of repaying him in some way. More about this, with some examples, later.

I don’t think jockey bookings have any great significance these days. Daragh O’Donohoe has been getting the call recently while William Carson rode Pindar to win at Bath. Micky Fenton has also been used successfully.

With respect to Barney’s current string there are two or three horses who look as if they are poised to win.

It could certainly pay to keep on the right side of Tusculum, a son of Sadler’s Wells and one of the most interesting horses in Barney’s yard.

He started his career with Aidan O’Brien, winning as a two-year-old and then taking a Listed race at three and running a good fifth to Sixties Icon in the St Leger.

The following year he ran twice for Andre Fabre in France, finishing down the field in two Listed races, before turning up under the name of Andrew Stringer – who held the licence at that time for Barney – the following June for a Class 2 handicap at Goodwood. He ran four times in 2008, beaten 58 lengths, 43 lengths, 53 lengths and 89 lengths, resulting in a total drop of 50lb, from 95 to 45.

I cannot recall ever seeing a horse’s mark plummet so dramatically, and by such precise amounts. Following his last race of the season at Warwick, in September 2008, he did not appear again until February, 2009, when he turned up in a 0-45 Class 7 classified stakes at Kempton – a far cry from the Group 1 company he was keeping just over two years earlier.

The money came through thick and fast, and he duly won a touch cosily having been backed down to 8’11. His only other race came back on the turf at Catterick in May.

I have to say I was surprised to see Tusculum’s name appear for a race at Kempton just in the last few days. Having not run been seen out for over three years I watched his race with great interest. Travelling well in arrears for the first mile and a quarter, he then seemed to tire and finished last of 12, 68 lengths behind the winner.

Despite being a nine-year-old Tusculum is lightly raced, having run just 14 times. Although rated lowly enough on 48, the handicapper will drop him a little more for this. As there is nothing to be gained by dropping any lower I would expect his turn is near.

Another horse to note is Eye Of The Tiger.

The seven-year-old son of Tiger Hill, unraced at two, won his sole two starts as a three-year-old in Germany and then as a five-year-old won a Group 2 in Cologne and ran third in a Group 3. As so often happens with horses associated with this yard he had time off, appearing two years later in the Group 3 John Porter Stakes at Newbury. Rated on a mark of 112, he finished well in arrears and dropped 11lb to 101.

Since then he has been beaten 41 lengths, 36 lengths, 111 lengths and 112 lengths, leading to a consequent drop from 101 to now 67. That means his mark has dropped a total of 45lb since April last year.

This may still not be enough for Barney, bearing in mind how low Tusculum came down before he won.

Steuben has a similar profile. Placed in Group 3 races in Germany as a three and four-year-old, he reappeared in Barney’s name this April having not been seen since running in Germany in June, 2010. Six defeats have seen his mark drop from 100 to 76. Again, this may not be low enough yet for Barney to strike.

Allanit, who is entered at Folkestone next Tuesday, is another to bear in mind. He has slipped down to just 2lb above his winning mark.

To conclude, my advice is to take heed of any horse Barney trains which has slipped down to a mark in the 40s. There is no point in dropping much lower than that because the races are not there for them.

Also don’t be discouraged if there is no obvious market support, although weakness in the market would be a concern. Also do not be put off if a horse has not run for a long time. Barney has no problem getting his horses fit at home.

Marten Signature