In October, 1963, the Daily Sketch reported that British racing’s biggest racehorse doping racket had been smashed.
Journalist Jamie Reid’s new book, Doped, tells the story of the infamous 1960s doping gang and how its members were able to get at horses in some of the best known racing yards in Newmarket Such was their success that they weren’t afraid to go after the best thoroughbreds in training including potential Derby winners.
According to the book, it was shortly after midnight on March 31, 1960, that a Ford Zodiac made its way quietly from the Carlton Hotel in the High Street to the clock tower and Moulton Road.
Inside were six men, including four Newmarket stable lads, who were part of the biggest horse doping gang in history, masterminded by bookmaker and gambler Bill Roper, which was targeting town stables and threatening the integrity of the sport on a national scale.
The destination of the gang that night was trainer Jack Waugh’s Heath House stable and the target the two-year-old Treasure Hunt, an easy winner of his last race and a colt bookies, punters and racing correspondents were keen to be on when he next ran on April 1.
That night the dopers were Kenny Santus, Michael Heffernan, Jack Stiles, and Darkie Steward. They forced the dope, methyl amphetamine, down the colt’s throat and the following day, at Windsor, though sent off the red hot favourite, he could only finish 10th. With no official dope testing or stewards’ inquiry after the race, the crooks were laughing, having laid the horse knowing it couldn’t win.
Heath House was not the only Newmarket stable the gang infiltrated that spring and its members weren’t afraid of looking to nobble the cream of the town’s equine talent.
Philip “Snuffy” Lawler was a trusted stablelad working for Noel Murless at Warren Place. In 1957 he had led up Oaks winner Carrozza for the Queen’s but, just two years later, he had been recruited by the dopers and by 1961 had co-operated in stopping up to a dozen Murless-trained horses. Despite local gossip that Lawler was involved in doping, Murless was not convinced and in 1960 he had him looking after Derby favourite St Paddy.
Three times the dopers tried to persuade Lawler to dope Sir Victor Sassoon’s colt, before the Dante at York, on the eve of the Derby, and then again before the St Leger, but despite being offered around £15,000 in today’s money, Lawler had refused. Perhaps like all stable lads he had dreamed of leading up a Derby winner or perhaps it was because he was getting a good drink from the owner every time his colt won.
But less than a year later Lawler was to play a pivotal part in the most infamous doping incident of them all.
Pinturischio, or Pint O’Sherry as the bookies called him, was being hailed as the next Warren Place superstar.
He had been backed down to 5-1 favourite for the 1961 Derby but after a brilliant gallop on May 13 and before he could take his place in the Dante Stakes, a recognised Derby trial, he had been doped by Lawler and gang members using croton oil, one of the most powerful laxatives known to man
After their first attempt the unfortunate animal had shown signs he might recover so the gang was sent back and doped him again. The combination of the two doses almost killed the colt and he never ran again.
“Doping the Derby favourite was a shocking act,” said Reid, “the racing equivalent of assassinating a president or a prime minister.
“It was only made possible through the collusion of Snuffy Lawler who accepted a cash bribe believed to be in the region of £600, or £10,800 in modern money.”
Scotland Yard investigators concluded that the equivalent of around £3.6 million was won by the bookies as a result of the doping. But no-one was ever charged with ordering it or carrying it out.
But the law did finally catch up with the gang, some members of which gave evidence against others to avoid jail, among them Lawler, but he never spoke publicly about his part in the doping of Pinturischio.
He was never to work in racing again but lived out his days in the town, ironically in Jim Joel Court, named after one of the great patrons of the yard where he had once been so highly thought of but where he had wreaked such havoc.
n Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang by Jamie Reid is published by Racing Post Books, priced £20.