LOOK SHARPE

AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

LOOK SHARPE: A Payne-Full Lesson

Sports betting PR legend GRAHAM SHARPE writes…

THE DRINKS were flowing, along with the buzz of noisy conversation, in one of the several Fleet Street’s hostelries much loved by racing journalists working for one of the country’s longest-established newspapers. We may even have been a few hundred yards away, in ‘The Stab’, the local pub for Sporting Life writers.

Wherever we were, it was the mid 1970s, and my boss and I had come across on the 63 bus from our office in Blackfriars Road to meet up with a few of our contacts, in the hope of persuading them to mention our company’s betting odds in the stories about up-coming races they would be writing.

One of these hacks was known for his contacts with a stable which was partial to the odd flutter on their fancied runners. And he was currently on something of a roll, with winners far outweighing losers. He suddenly appeared by my side and whispered a couple of names to me before slipping away into the night as quietly as he had appeared..

Later, quite a while later, as I staggered unsteadily back across Blackfriars Bridge en route to Waterloo Station and the tube train home, on which I would inevitably fall asleep and quite possibly end up missing my stop, I repeated the names I’d been given, searched my pockets for a pen, and scribbled them on my wrist.

The horses duly obliged next day, giving my meagre take-home pay a significant boost, albeit making the betting shop boss I had placed the bets with give me a suspicious glare: ‘Backing a few winners, aren’t you.’

It wasn’t phrased as a question. More of a warning!

This was the only stage of my life when I was actually accurately accused of having access to inside information.

It didn’t last.

I’d almost forgotten this enjoyable phase, when I was recently sat listening to a few records, as I continued my quest to hear in full every cd, LP, single and EP I own, before my own needle reaches its final groove.

I’d randomly reached out for a book to read whilst bathing in the aural delights coming from the speakers, and picked out ‘The Coup’ by Ken Payne, published in 1978, and declared on the front cover to be ‘The startling expose of the world of horse-racing.’

Mr Payne was the trainer from whose base my shady journalistic informant used to pass on the tips all those years back.

In the book – which, it must be said, had clearly been appallingly proof-read as it is packed with mis-spellings – Payne is wisely somewhat vague about the methods involved in ensuring his horses would run rather faster than their opponents on a regular basis.This, while assuring the reader that nothing whatsoever untoward was involved, and that it was pretty much down to his own training abilities – well, that and, allegedly and apparently, also injecting horses with anabolic steroids.

One of the trainer’s previous professions had been as a window cleaner. Indeed, ‘Window Payne’ was an accurate identification, and he did indeed clean up in both.

The book is packed with tales of his four figure gambles – an online calculator tells me £1 in 1975 is worth about £8.50 in today’s terms – so, many of them would be at least five figure gambles nowadays.

There are many big names of the day included in his tales, amongst them – Lester Piggott, singer/actor Tommy Steele, singers Max Bygraves and Frankie Vaughan, actor Stanley Baker, boxer John Conteh.

On page 192 Payne explains succinctly some of his methods which are, of course, we all know, extinct today: ‘The planning of a big coup might take months, during which a horse was being run in the wrong races, kept less than fit, and used as a red herring for the bookies.’

He adds: ‘I don’t think I ever did anything illegal, but I confess I worked damned hard to screen my intentions from the bookmakers.’

He also explains that ‘by bleeding a horse then transferring back a couple of pints before a race you give the horse extra oomph’ and that ‘a slow start can also be arranged by any good jockey.’

Tragically, in early 1976 his young son, Nathan, was killed in a tragic accident. Not long after, Payne took an overdose but was found the next morning and saved when the person who discovered him ‘gave me the kiss of life repeatedly until he got a spark of response from my heart.’

Ironically enough, the man who pulled him back from the brink of death was ‘the same man who had pursued me relentlessly through the courts on an issue involving theft.’

Told you it is a lively read!

My 1977 Ruff’s Guide to the Turf annual records that Payne had 30 winning horses (his stable once boasted up to 120 equine residents) in 1976, winners of 39 races, worth prize money in total of £26,106, a very respectable score for the time, not up with the big hitters, but competitive with many middle ranking stables. How much he won by backing them is not recorded by Ruffs.

1976 was, though, his final domestic campaign.

The book ends with Payne musing, ‘Maybe I’ll paint for a living. Who knows?’

Well, it seems not many do know.

In February, 1977, a story in the Liverpool Echo read: ‘Former racehorse trainer Ken Payne, aged 39, was remanded by Havering, Essex. magistrates to-day on £l,OOO bail, with two £l.OOO surities, accused of obtaining by deception a diamond ring worth £8,OOO.’

In 2003 racing writer Graham Green wrote of Payne that he: ‘has since continued his colourful – and amorous – adventures around the globe with a string of partners who have included a model 22 years his junior, a former assistant trainer 19 years younger, and a minor American soap star. He has trained in the US – allegedly under an alias on one occasion – and in Australia, where again he has combined operations with his other area of expertise, the luxury motor trade.’

One of our foremost, and still active, racing journalists also endeavoured to track down his whereabouts some years back, and confirmed that Payne had been in both USA and Australia since leaving our shores, but even he was ultimately unsuccessful in locating him – telling me recently: ‘I don’t know if he’s still alive or not.’

Googling his name produces little or no worthwhile information, either, although one online entry from 2009 declared: ‘Ken Payne was licensed as a trainer in Western Australia until recently. Definitely English, about 5′ 8” with longish silvery grey hair. Had very little success.’

Payne was born in March, 1937, so would be ‘getting on’ if still alive – but it would certainly be interesting to find out what he got up to abroad, or even to be able to talk to him in more detail about the days of ‘The Coup’.

However, it is also reported that when one of his sons tracked him down some years ago, and made his way abroad to meet up with him, his Dad duly turned up, but with a bevy of beautiful ladies of dubious occupation, to whom he introduced his offspring, before departing never to return.

Was that his Payneful departure from the limelight?

GRAHAM SHARPE


Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.


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