We all love a good gambler. I reckon there's nothing like reading the secrets of a huge betting plonk.

UK professional Barney Curley is one of those fearless bettors who have been there and done that. The story of his life is revealed in his autobiography, Giving A Little Back.

In 1975, he pulled off one of the biggest racehorse betting coups in history and nine years later he successfully raffled his massive mansion in Ireland.

He was born in 1939 into a poor Irish family. His father liked the drink too much to ever get rich. When he did achieve a good level of financial stability, through training and betting on greyhounds, he lost it all in 10 years.

His son proved a shrewder bettor. In 1975, his Yellow Sam betting coup rocked the racing world in Ireland and the UK. Curley had had a bad run and was in desperate need of a big win.

He asked his trainer Liam Brenna to find a horse that might be able to bring off a winning coup. That horse was Yellow Sam, an ordinary performer but a good jumper.

Curley entered him in a lowgrade race at Bellestown, one of Ireland's oldest racecourses. It held only one three-day meeting every year and usually attracted poor-quality fields.

Yellow Sam fell into this category and his awful formline ensured he was well handicapped. Says Curley:

"We just needed a horse to do the job and he was the only conceivable possibility. We had the horse. We had the race. Now the crucial, but most difficult, part was getting the money on in sufficient quantities and at suitably rewarding odds."

For weeks, Curley remained at his home, plotting the coup. He was, he says, like a general massing his troops for battle.

"The timing had to be right and 1 had to trust my collaborators implicitly," he writes in the book.

"The betting shops were my targets and I intended to have my men put the money down in offices in every large town in Ireland ... 150 shops in total, with the bets going down roughly at the same time, just before the race and all in such small quantities that nobody would pick up what was going on." The problem for

Curley was that his name was "notorious" among bookmakers and the bagmen were often able to sniff out a Curley plunge.

Eventually, he compiled a list of 25 men he could trust. He ended up with 12 "generals" and instructed them to recruit soldiers they could trust to put on the bets.

Each man got about 1200 pounds each. Curley's secrecy (he didn't even let his wife in on the coup's planning) paid off. Not a whisper got back to the track until it was too late.

The most vital link in his chain of command was a man who would effectively block the one racecourse telephone, but without drawing attention to the fact.

"If he didn't do his job properly the whole thing would be blown wide open," says Curley. He chose a tough individual named Benny O'Hanlon because, says Curley, "to get him off the phone it would need a man to get out a gun and shoot him".

Yellow Sam was handicapped on 10st 61b in a field of 9 runners, with the topweight on 12 stone. He was around 20/1 in the early market.

Curley had about 15,000 pounds to bet. All over Ireland his "troops" were moving into action. Each man was instructed to put on between 50 and 300 pounds. With Curley's man blocking the racecourse telephone, the bookies were to discover they couldn't lay off the bet on course.

Yellow Sam's jockey Michael Furlong was not let in on the coup. All he was told was to "bide his time" and hit the front when he thought it was the right moment. "You'll win," he was told, and only then did he realise that something big was afoot.

Curley writes: "If you imagined I'd be nervous during the 4 minutes and 51 seconds duration of the race, you'd be quite wrong. Once I got to the course I was ice-cold, even though defeat would have wiped me out.

"That has always been my way. You couldn't read me at the races and the day that doubt and anxiety enter my thoughts as 1 walk in through the gates is the day I'll retire from the game."

Yellow Sam won handsomely starting price of 20/1.

"All hell broke loose," says Curley. "All the shops were at last getting through on the phone in the box which Benny had now long vacated, and the men at the course were realising that the off-course offices had been caught, although even then I don't think they realised the gravity of the situation."

By the following day, the whole world knew about the coup. The payout was more than 300,000 pounds, equivalent to 1.4 million pounds in today's terms. But no individual betting shop had to pay out more than 6000 pounds.

Giving A Little Back, paperback 430 pages, by Barney Curley, is available from the High Stakes Bookshop in London (www.highstakes.co.uk).

By Philip Roy