Racing may be serious business for bookies, jockeys, trainers, owners and some punters. But that doesn’t mean it can’t produce some really crazy moments.
The 1857 Grand National
England’s national hunt epic, the Grand National, was contested in a heavy downpour in the year 1857. In fact this downpour was so heavy that the riders completely lost their bearings, and one, Charlie Boyce, ventured into the canal towpath that runs alongside Aintree Racecourse. Without any fences or jumps to present him with problems, Boyce surged into the lead and won the race with ease. Stewards let the win stand.
The 1947 Grand National
The 1947 Grand National set the scene for another crazy moment. This time around it was thick fog that plagued the racetrack. The fog was so thick that one jockey, named Edward Dempsey, decided to hold his horse back, wait for the field to come around behind him, and then surge ahead of them at the last moment. Since being lapped in the race is unheard of, this made it look like he was leading the pack. Dempsey went on to ‘win’ the race.
The Fine Cotton Affair
The Fine Cotton Affair can claim to be the most inept execution of a racing scam in history. This event involved a racing syndicate attempting to replace the racehorse Fine Cotton with a ringer. When the ringer fell ill, they resorted to replacing it with a second ringer with a different coat colour – which they had to paint to resemble Fine Cotton. That horse went on to win the race, whereupon its paint began to drip off, landing the syndicate members in deep water with the Queensland Turf Club.
Fine Cotton had a pretty crazy precedent, thanks to a crazy plot Australian racehorse owner, Kim Kingsley, hatched in the early 1900s. Kingsley realized he could boost horses odds by making the jockey heavier, and then increase its chances of success by getting the jockey to quickly lose weight. He accomplished this by setting up a series of tunnels and a trapdoor in the scale room where jockeys could pick up and drop weights. He was busted when one of his jockeys was discovered to have lost 13kgs during the course of a race.
The Erbie affair definitely ranks as one of the most outlandish moments in racing history. This incident involved trainer Charlie Prince pretending to retire his successful racehorse Erbie, and then use him as a ringer in lower rated races. With the assistance of a pot of brown dye to cover Erbie’s distinctive chest blaze, Prince pulled off a series of victories. His plot caught up with him when a racing journalist recognized Erbie during a race, resulting in an investigation and a 2-year jail sentence.
The 1913 Epsom Derby
The 1913 Epsom Derby set the stage for an unusual, and fatal, intersection between politics and horseracing. During the course of the race the suffragette, Emily Davison, made her way onto the track and faced down a thundering pack of racehorses travelling at full tilt. She is then believed to have attempted to pin a sash onto King George V’s own horse, Anmer, who instead hit her at full speed. In the collision the horse, jockey and Davison were flung to the ground. Anmer and the jockey subsequently recovered, while Davison died from her injuries four days later.