Racing: Bookmakers are caught by Hook

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The Independent Online
FOR THE second time in less than a year, High Street bookmakers are withholding winnings after the success of a carefully-planned off-course gamble, writes Greg Wood.

Old Hook, trained in Belgium by Allan Smith, was the comfortable winner of yesterday's Coomes Selling Stakes at Folkestone, beating the odds-on favourite, Window Display, by one and a half lengths at 20-1. Within half an hour, however, the Betting Office Licensees' Association, which represents the country's biggest bookmakers, was advising its members to withhold payments pending an inquiry into 'unusual betting patterns'.

'There was larger money than you would expect for a horse of its price,' John Johnson, of BOLA, said. 'We will be carrying out further inquiries but they will not be concluded today.'

Last September, BOLA was strongly criticised for taking a fortnight to lift a 'no payment' instruction after a coup on 33-1 winner Jo N Jack. The organisation appeared annoyed that a large gamble could be pulled off without its knowledge.

Smith's touch with Old Hook was planned with equal precision. The trainer employed members of his family to place bets in shops across the country while Old Hook drifted on the course from 10-1 to 25-1, before being returned at 20-1.

'We wanted the bookies to squeal and it looks like we've done it,' Smith said. 'I have a large family, three brothers and my father-in-law's family, who all backed Old Hook.'

'It was well planned, we were all waiting for it and we've all had a good bet. If the bookies are withholding payments then we will have to wait, but we will still be drinking champagne tonight.'

'We took a series of substantial wagers in several Central London branches within close proximity,' Graham Sharpe, spokesman for William Hill, said. 'We are paying out to regulars but witholding other bets on the advice of BOLA. We do have substantial liabilities.'

At the subsequent auction, Old Hook was bought in for 6,800gns. His connections produced the money in cash when a Belgian cheque was refused.

The Connell Committee, which investigated the Grand National fiasco, will today question media coverage of its findings in a letter to the racing press. In particular, the Committee denies that Ken Evans, Aintree's recall flagman, was singled out for blame in its report.

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