Tributes from prominent racing figures and broadcasters have poured in for gambling icon and mastermind Barney Curley who passed away on Sunday at the age of 81.
Racing TV revisited an archived interview from March 2019, when Curley joined Nick Luck in the Luck On Sunday studio, wherein he discussed his ‘extraordinary’ career, from priesthood to punting.
Telling Luck about how he survived an almost fatal case of Tuberculosis, Curley explained two years ago: “I was sent to boarding school at 11 years of age, then when I was 16 my father went skint so we landed in England, both of us. That was the big making of me – it was tough.
“We just had a small room which was maybe half the size of this studio and we went to work every day, got the money and sent it home. Eventually, after 12 months, the debt was cleared and back we came home.
“I suppose after that, I decided I would study for the priesthood so I was there for about 18 months or two years maybe so I always used to be on the ‘A team’ at football but eventually I ended up on the ‘C team’ and the trainer used to say to me, ‘Curley, you’re not trying’. But it ended up that I collapsed on the football field and I ended up in a sanatorium.”
The professional gambler, born in Irvinestown, County Fermanagh, became a horse trainer and was best known for his betting coup involving the unfancied Yellow Sam in 1975 at Bellewstown Racecourse, lauded as one of the biggest betting plots of all time.
Winning the race at 20/1, Yellow Sam – described by Curley as ‘one of the worst horses I’ve ever owned’ – secured winnings of over £2 million when adjusted for inflation.
Bellewstown Races tweeted out a tribute to the late Curley, posting: “His name along with this phone box are an integral part of our history on the hill. Condolences to his family and friends.”
In addition to racing, Curley also made substantial charitable donations throuhgout his career, establishing Direct Aid for Africa (DAFA) in 1996, an organisation focused on supporting underprivileged people in Zambia.
Champion jockey AP McCoy voiced his thoughts on social media, saying: “Very sad to hear that Barney Curley has passed away. Feel lucky to have enjoyed his company, a man with well founded legendary status as a trainer/gambler, but one who also raised lots for the charity Direct Aid for Africa. RIP.”
Matt Chapman called the legendary figurehead ‘one of the men who made racing a fascination by being fascinating’, whilst trainer John Butler who previously acted as his assistant said ‘he was just one of those people’.
Notable jockeys to have saddled up on Curley’s horses included Frankie Dettori, Jamie Spencer, Tom Queally, Tommy Carmody and Declan Murphy, with the trainer claiming his last win in 2012.