Wellington link to racing's biggest ring-in

FINE MESS: Peter Payne with a family memento of Fine Cotton.
FINE MESS: Peter Payne with a family memento of Fine Cotton.

YESTERDAY was the 30th anniversary of horse racing’s biggest scandal involving the infamous switch of Wellington racehorse Fine Cotton for Bold Personality and the subsequent controversial race at Eagle Farm on August 18, 1984.

The ring-in caused international headlines and damaged the sport’s reputation and it involved a priest, famous bookmakers including Robbie Waterhouse, husband of horse trainer Gai, and Peter McCoy, who owned hotels and was alleged to be one of Australia’s best-known SP bookmakers.

Before being bought by conman John Gillespie to race in Brisbane, Fine Cotton was trained in Wellington by Bill Payne. His nephew who strapped the horse, Peter Payne, is still amazed by the story.

“I was playing cricket I think at the time of the Fine Cotton substitution race. When I heard about it I couldn’t believe it and, yes, I never backed it,’’ Peter said.

Fine Cotton  won races at Geurie, Gulgong, Gilgandra and Mudgee for its owner Dick Hurst who lived at the property “Ben Buckley” near Wellington.

“Everybody connected with the horse here has passed away except for me,” Peter said.

“It was a great time for racing back then but no one ever predicted this would happen and how it would embroil the whole of the game including the big hitters.’’ 

Queensland’s racing fraternity was rocked when a horse disguised as Fine Cotton won a 1500m event at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm Racecourse on August 18, 1984.

 The scam involved a syndicate headed by Gillespie that purchased a horse that looked almost identical to Fine Cotton (Dashing Solitaire) but performed better.

 Unfortunately for the syndicate, this horse was injured and unable to race when the ring-in was due to take place. 

Having already invested money and gone so far, the syndicate decided to find another horse. 

With time running out, they purchased a horse called Bold Personality, an open-class horse several grades above Fine Cotton.

Only problem was Bold Personality didn’t look like Fine Cotton.

A clumsy disguise of hair colouring and white paint was used to make Bold Personality look more like Fine Cotton.

Backed from 33-1 into 7-2 in a nationwide plunge, Fine Cotton edged out Harbour Gold in the 1500m race but it didn’t take stewards long to disqualify the horse.


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