"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies famously remarked at the Old Bailey on 23 July 1963 when told that Lord Astor denied having sex with her. On the same day, an attractive 26-year-old Swiss woman, Micheline Lugeon, also appeared in court, at Brighton, charged with conspiring to dope racehorses.
Lugeon was the mistress of Bill Roper, a well-connected gambler and bookmaker some 30 years her senior. Starting in 1959, he had been doping horses, mainly to lose, on an industrial scale, and his lover had been an integral part of the scam.
Dressed to impress, she would arrive unannounced at a racing stable in a chauffeur-driven car, explaining that she was a French owner looking to place some horses in England; would it be possible to have a tour of the premises? Her wish was usually granted, and as she strolled round she was followed by her "chauffeur" – in reality Roper or, if he feared he would be recognised, an accomplice – who took a careful note of the boxes in which potential targets were stabled.
The night before a race, other members of the gang would break in and administer a powerful sedative to the horse, usually a favourite. Roper and his associates would then clean up by laying the horse and/or betting on others in the race. No one was safe – hundreds of horses were nobbled, including the 1961 Derby favourite, Pinturischio, and several owned by the Queen Mother. But this last audacity sowed the seeds of Roper's downfall as her trainer, Major Peter Cazalet, became suspicious, prompting an investigation. What seems astonishing now is how lax security was at most stables, and how useless the sport's patrician ruling body, the Jockey Club, proved, characterised in Jamie Reid's words by "ignorance, incompetence and vacillation". Reid's pacy account is peopled by a memorable cast, including the drug supplier, Ted "The Witch Doctor" Smith; gangland kingpins Albert Dimes and Charlie Mitchell; and no end of bent bookies and shifty stable lads. He has captured the Sixties milieu to a tee and served up a richly enjoyable slice of Turf history, though the Jockey Club might find it somewhat indigestible.
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