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How a Horse of a Different Color Tried to Pull it Off

By Archie Ward
October 2012

Fine Cotton was a racehorse: not a very good one, but a racehorse nonetheless. If only he'd had a little more speed, the scandal might not have occurred.

Fine Cotton's dismal racing career began in Queensland, Australia, in 1978. By 1984, his notorious lack of prowess had led his well-connected handlers to dream up an alternate means of having him make them some money.

They started by purchasing a horse that was similar in size and build to Fine Cotton. The biggest difference between the two was the fact that the new horse, Bold Personality, could actually run. There was, however, another disparity. Fine Cotton was brown in color with bright white markings on both hind legs. Bold Personality was bay with no markings whatsoever.

Fine Cotton's connections refused to let the color difference stop them. A few boxes of hair dye handled that well, and as for those hind legs, white paint would do in a pinch.

The half-baked makeover complete, the stable entered Bold Personality under Fine Cotton's name in the Commerce National Handicap at Brisbane's Eagle Farm Racecourse. As the horses paraded to the post, the stewards couldn't help but notice that "Fine Cotton," the perennial longshot, was taking money faster than the Titanic took on water. By the time the gates slammed open, his odds had dropped to 7/2.

While the real Fine Cotton lounged in his stall munching sweet timothy hay, the well-bet imposter battled it out with early favorite Harbour Gold, beating him by a nose at the wire. Spectator cries of "ring-in" immediately rang in the air, and the inquiry sign lit up fast when the stewards saw the white paint running off the ringer's hind legs.

It didn't take long to disqualify "Fine Cotton." The punters who had bet him down were not the only losers. An official investigation resulted in a lifetime banning of six of the stable's high-profile connections, some of whom also served jail time.

The story might have ended there had it not been for one strange fact. John Gillespie, the head of the betting syndicate, began to brag that he'd actually won $1.8 million on the race, having bet the bank on the runner-up, Harbour Gold. In fact, he boasted, he had planned the entire caper for the sole purpose of pushing up the odds on the eventual winner.

Had the whole thing been a double swindle? Don't ask Fine Cotton. He died at the age of 31, never having spilled the beans.

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