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The Man Bookmakers Feared

During the twenties, and into the thirties, Eric Connolly was the most feared person to step on a racecourse, be it in Melbourne or Sydney.

He didn’t have a gun, all though there were many that were well armed and not afraid use them if the occasion arose.

The punting bug bit him at a tender age, he was about nine year old when he went onto the Flemington flat with a few schillings in his pocket, from there he was never paid as an employee.

They were desperate times leading into the depression, however, Connolly never wanted for anything, he lived on his wits; he was a gambler, and a highly successful one at that.

He came from a humble beginning; he wasn’t fed from a golden spoon, (a quote that a person came from a wealthy family) that was not the case with Eric Connolly.  

He was shrewd, brilliant, in fact he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and always got the best of the odds.

Originally, he managed race horses for wealthy people, who may not have had the time due to pressure of their business.

That suited him; he didn’t train the horses, but had the advantage of selecting the suitable races for them.

It became a lucrative business, the owners employed the trainers, Connolly selected the races for the horses, everything worked out well.

He soon became the best dressed figure on the racecourse, with a wide variety of suits, and wouldn’t wear the same suit twice in the one week, and a cigarette hanging in the corner of his mouth.

Bookmakers feared him, he was absolutely ruthless, he would place 10,000 pounds on a horse and have the cheek to say, “Can I have another serve?”

The bookie then would be off in a flash, looking for the next bloke to try and lay some of the bet off, particularly if it was Ascot, the bookie would be a dead duck.

Eric Connolly, flamboyant character, winning fortunes and losing them in the drop of a hat, without batting an eyelid, his motto, Money lost Nothing lost –Courage lost Everything lost.

When entries closed for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in July, about 600 horses would be entered for each race.

Doubles betting was always very popular; often a bonanza for those in need, and that included a few bookies.

Betting was already in place before the weights were declared, Phar Lap was favourite for both cups, Phar Lap, as you would expect, was the early favourite in each leg, but still Eric Connolly had not made a move.

He was well aware that Harry Telford, who purchased Phar Lap as a yearling, but could not pay for him, Telford had to seek the assistance of an American, David Davis, who ultimately owned Phar Lap, as Telford was near broke.

On one of his several visits to Sydney Eric Connolly spotted a good horse named Amounis, he had won an Epsom Handicap and several weight for age races, he began to think about it, if Phar Lap was not in the Caulfield Cup, Amounis would be next door to a good thing.

“Well what do we do? “said Telford, Connolly replied, “leave that to me, we are not ready yet. “

Bookmakers were having to lay money off now, as the commitment was getting beyond it, the favourite double, Phar Lap for the Caulfield Cup and Phar Lap for the Melbourne Cup, the shortist double on record.

Connolly always had a high opinion of Amounis, it was now time to strike, he had backed the Amounis –Phar Lap double for a huge amount, some say it could have been a million pounds.

Finally it was announced the scratching of Phar Lap from the Caulfield Cup, the winner was Amounis at 2-1 favourite, and Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup at 8-11 on.

It was the biggest hiding bookmakers have known, many went to the wall, some never recovered, the depression didn’t make it any easier.


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