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A criminal scandal of the 50s and 60s
on 22 October 2013
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.