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Fine Cotton Horse Race Scandal Still Remembered

horse-racingPerhaps the most notorious horse racing scandal in Australian history occurred on August 18, 1984 at Eagle Farm Racecourse in Brisbane. On that day, a ring-in, or substitute, horse scam was attempted that was so inept that it bordered on farce. Fine Cotton, a brown gelding with white stockings, was scheduled into the handicap race.

John Gillespie, a well-known figure in the racing world, was the leader of the scheme. He initially planned to substitute a horse that bore a remarkable resemblance to Fine Cotton, but the animal was injured a few days before the race.

Gillespie then purchased Bold Personality, a bay with no white markings. Gillespie used large quantities of ladies’ hair dye in an attempt to camouflage the bay. When he forgot the peroxide needed to lighten the horse’s legs, he used white paint instead. This was unsuccessful, so Bold Personality’s legs were taped.

Before the race, odds on Fine Cotton were 33-1. Thanks to heavy betting by Gillespie, bookmakers Bill and Robbie Waterhouse and several others, by race time odds were 7-2. Race officials were suspicious of the horse’s suddenly improved prospects, but did not investigate at that time.

The race was close. Bold Personality running as Fine Cotton and expected winner Harbour Gold competed fiercely. Bold Personality won at the wire by a nose. By the finish, officials and fans in the stands were already demanding an inquiry.

Race stewards began an investigation as soon as the race ended. By then, the white paint was running off Bold Personality’s legs. Officials called for the horse’s papers, but trainer Hayden Haitana fled the track. The winning horse was disqualified, and Harbour Gold was declared the winner.

Gillespie and Haitana served time in prison for their role in the scheme. Six men were warned off, or banned for life, by the Queensland Turf Club for their role in the affair. The Australian Jockey Club banned nine others for their participation or knowledge of the scam. Of all the individuals involved, only Haitana is still banned. Robbie Waterhouse has had several clashes with racing authorities since his ban was lifted.

Because highly placed bookmakers and racing figures were implicated, the scandal has lived on. Allegations of involvement by police officers and businessmen have also kept the story alive. However, it is the scheme’s ineptitude that still captures the imagination of racing aficionados.

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