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VINE VOICEon 26 September 2013
In this rivetting, hard-to-put-down account of a celebrated horse-doping conspiracy that brought British horse racing to its knees in the late 1950s and early '60s, Jamie Reid does for the sport of kings what Michael Lewis has done so eloquently and effectively for the world of finance (Liar's Poker, The Big Short). What both these authors do so well is catch the mood of the times, and bring to stunning and exuberant life the complex insider worlds of gamblers, rogues and villains whether they're operating on the trading floors of Wall Street or in the royal enclosures at Epsom and Ascot. Marshalling a huge cast of characters, from the rarefied salons of the Jockey Club to the smokey bars and gambling dens of the lower orders, Reid vividly recreates the shadowy world of racetrack racketeering in post-war Britain, and provides a narrative that grips and fascinates whether you're a seasoned race-goer or, like me, the 'quid each way' punter on Grand National day. Like Lewis, Reid is a deft hand at the telling thumbnail sketch, and expert at conjuring up a lost world of loud checks, cheeky chappies and bowler-hatted blimps, his racy tale of bent bookie Bill Roper, his glamourous Swiss mistress and gang of ne'er-do-well dopers a captivating cocktail of Ealing caper, underworld noir, and Establishment snobbery. But for all the gloss and glamour, the close calls and high jinks, there is no denying that Roper's activities not only constituted a very serious financial fraud that raked in millions of pounds in a very short period of time, but also served to undermine the reputation of British racing around the world. It also put at grave risk the health and prospects not only of the racehorses that were drugged but the lives of the jockeys who rode them. Having said all that, I have to admit a rather grudging fondness for the roguish Mr Roper, and in the final poignant pages - in court, in prison, and after serving out his sentence - I found myself rather rooting for the fellow. He might have been a cad and a bounder, but deep down I believe he was a caring cad and bounder.
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on 11 October 2013
What a marvellous tale. Hard to think that this was real life and not a "roman noir" as in the "films noir" of the 1940's. Very well written and researched in the fullest detail, it is unputdownable! I am a great fan of racing, though I think it would be equally riveting to someone that was not, and incredible to see all those names of trainers, owners and jockeys that are still around today as well as the bookmakers. This is gripping stuff and I could not recommend it more.
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This might even be the scandal that inspired Dick Francis to start writing crime novels about horseracing. His first such book came out in 1962, at a time when the crimes described in this book were all over the news in Britain. At least with those books, we know that the good guys always win in the end. So it is in this book about a true-life crime, but it isn't always so.

The story involves criminals who mostly (it seems) drifted into crime gradually, perhaps to solve some short-term problem in their lives, but then found they needed more money and (in at least some cases) continuing their crimes was the only way to sustain the lifestyle they became accustomed to. They got away with it for as long as they did only because the authorities were incompetent - this should surprise nobody who follows any British sport - the Jockey Club are just as bad as the FA, the SFA, the RFU (remember what Will Carling said about them?) and other sporting authorities. Over the years, these authorities and the legislators have improved some things but still they dither about others. I don't think the kind of crimes described in this book could happen in anything like this way today (at least in Britain) for a variety of reasons, but crimes against British horseracing still occur, so criminals have found other ways to do their dirty deeds.

The big individual scandal within the series of crimes was the nobbling of Pinturischio, the favorite for the 1961 Epsom Derby. He never recovered as a racehorse and made no impact as a stallion either. The 1961 Derby winner, Psidium, was a rank outsider who has not gone down in history as one of the best winners of the race. So the bookies cleaned up twice over - because of the nobbling and because the winner wasn't expected to benefit from the absence of Pinturischio.

Along the way, the author manages to name-drop plenty of celebrities as well as criminals (the great train robbers, the Kray twins, Frankie Fraser, Ruth Ellis) and notorious people (Richard Beeching, Christine Keeler, John Profumo, Peter Rschman, Mandy Rice-Davies), but ultimately it is the story that matters. I found it a bit slow to get going, but once into it, I found it hard to put down and only did so when absolutely necessary.

It helps to have a knowledge of horseracing as I do, but it is not essential. If you are a fan of Dick Francis's novels, especially his early ones, you will probably enjoy this book too.
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on 22 October 2013
I am not a race goer and have never been particularly keen on racing. That being said I couldn't put this book down. Bill Roper and his glamourous mistress, portray the more seedy and shadowy side of horse racing at that time, putting horses and their jockeys lives at risk for money. It is a riveting read and very well researched. I got a tremendous feel for the era in which it was set and the characters really came to life. I can highly recommend it.
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on 30 October 2013
Painstakingly researched and wonderfully told, this is a book to savour. Only Roper the Doper can stop it winning the Best Sporting Book of the Year award, and he's dead.
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on 11 November 2013
Doped does a lot: it succeeds in telling a tricky technical crime story but with verve and colour, so you get all the facts and all the fun. Reid has a great talent for shining a glamorous and alluring light on the seedy goings on of the British underworld. The main narrative is told against a background of the political and social events which were going on during the sixties, and which are carefully selected to give a sense of the revolution that was taking place in Britain. In some ways the criminals in the gang featured in this book were just another load of working class guys on the make, and out to push the toffs off the top of the tree, but their attempt was too lawless and brutal to succeed. Had there been as many photographs of the Roper gang as there were of the Krays it is certain they would be better known now. But Reid brings them and their story vividly and attractively to life in this compelling book.
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on 31 October 2013
Excellent book - really enjoyed it, written really well considering I'm not really into the racing world. Best read for ages.
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on 15 January 2014
This is the story of the doping gang that was busy in the horseracing world in the 50s and early 60s.

It is well paced, albeit a bit "racy" in style (well it would be). The gang used to research racing stables, break into them at night and nobble the selected horse (usually the favourite for a forthcoming race). The gang (bookies and friends) made their money by happily taking bets on a horse that could not win and backing the one that would in its absence.

If you are not familiar with the way the betting market works, you may get a bit confused.

The book is interesting in showing the vast differences (in social classes, racing, betting, the police etc.) between then and now. The complacency and ignorance of the racing authorities (Jockey Club) is startling. For instance there was an almost total lack of security at stables.

There are only a few photos and many of these are only peripheral to the story (the Queen arriving at the Derby for instance). Pity there were not more of the protagonists, but I suppose there were legal and copyright problems.

The editor and proof readers have let a few things slip through (a barometer reading temperature, Roper's wife described as "Doris Curd nee Roper" when it was the other way round, one of the crooks dying of a heart attack in "his early 1950s" etc.

A reasonable yarn but could have been a bit better
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on 26 December 2013
Most of the jockeys trainers and horses were of my era and because I am a horse racing fan it really was a good read. Thank you to those who wrote their recommendations on this book it lead to me finding this gem.
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on 30 November 2013
I spotted this book on a short list for the 'Sports Book of the Year 2013' prize, and having had a lifelong interest in racing, and true crime, decided to give it a chance. I did have some recollection of the events, though they took place about five years before I got into racing, so I was short on the detail.

A day or so after I started reading I noticed the book had in fact won the prize - and I was not at all surprised. From the start it gripped me, and I found it hard to put it down. It's well written, entertaining, and has all the elements of a Dick Francis novel except it's based on real life happenings. There are one or two minor errors, but so good was the overall book that they were forgiven! (If the author is reading this, he refers to one of the gang dying in his 1950s, when he means 50s, plus he might want to double check that John Sutcliffe's father was a bookmaker - I think he was a trainer)

I rarely recommend books to friends, but have urged my racing friends not to miss this one. Loved it.
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