AUTHOR: Lewis Williams

LOOK SHARPE: Royal Ascot’s Greatest Stunner

Sports betting PR legend GRAHAM SHARPE brings you his latest ‘LOOK SHARPE’ column…

There is a strong argument to be made that the events of, and as a result, subsequent to, June 16, 1988, were the strangest ever seen at the Royal Ascot meeting, writes GRAHAM SHARPE.

The 18 runner King George V Handicap run on that day saw one of the top jockeys of his time, Greville Starkey, partnering the 4/1 second favourite, Ile De Chypre. The combination was leading the way by some three lengths as the field approached the final furlong, only for Starkey to fall, shockingly, from his mount, which had swerved unpredictably and violently to the left. Pundits, punters and people at the course were left feeling baffled at what they had witnessed. Fortunately, horse and rider were ultimately undamaged.

In October, 1989, a jury hearing a smuggling and betting conspiracy-related case, was sensationally told that Starkey’s’s tumble had been caused by a blast from what was described as a James Bond-style, ultrasonic ‘stun-gun’, disguised as a pair of binoculars, which had directed a high-powered, high frequency burst of sound towards Starkey and his horse.

Starkey himself had taken part in tests involving horses’ reactions to such a device, and later told the jury officiating in this trial, also involving three men on cocaine-related offences that it was ‘lethal’ – having chosen three ponies used by members of his family for the test at his Newmarket stud farm. One of them, named High Flier, ‘took off at 100mph’ when the device was aimed at him, another also reacted similarly, but the third seemed unaffected.

Starkey told the trial jury; ‘It frightened me, it frightened the horse, and I would say it is lethal. I was out of control.’

The court heard that the ‘gun’ directed a sound ‘like an ear-piercing shriek’ to a horse, but which was inaudible to humans.

The official ‘Ascot; The History’ book added that the jury had been shown a leather binocular case, containing what seemed to be an innocuous pair of binoculars, but which was actually ‘an ultrasonic gun’ which could shoot ‘at a passing racehorse at a distance of up to 50 feet, a loud ultrasonic noise inaudible to humans.’

Racing writer David Ashforth examined the case in his highly recommended 2022 book, ‘Ashforth’s Curiosities Of Racing’ (Merlin Unwin Books). Wrote Mr Ashforth – ‘The jury may or may not have been persuaded of the efficacy of the beaming binoculars.’

The prestigious Timeform publication, ‘Racehorse Of 1989’ discussed Ile De Chypre across three pages, suggesting that ‘informed opinion within racing was sceptical of the claims made during the court hearing’ and asking how ‘could they have profited greatly by ‘nobbling’ Ile de Chypre, the second favourite in a very open, 18 runner handicap?’

Of course, these days, thanks to betting exchanges, there would be a readily available possible answer to such a question.

Greville Starkey, born in 1939, died in April, 2010. He was a noted weighing room joker, and his nickname amongst fellow jockeys was ‘The Barker’ – earned for his ability to mimic accurately a barking Jack Russell terrier dog, often at unusual and inappropriate times! He was once even responsible for delaying the departure of a flight to the States while cabin crew searched unsuccessfully for the yapping dog apparently hiding on board!

It does seem extremely unlikely that even a joker like Greville would have risked putting his own life at danger by deliberately taking a potentially fatal tumble from a speeding racehorse.

Greville rode for thirty three years, chalking up 1989 winners on the flat, including a remarkable 1978 Classic double-double as he partnered Shirley Heights to win both the Derby and Irish Derby; and Fair Salinia to win the Oaks and Irish Oaks. He also won the 1964 Oaks on Homeward Bound, the 1981 and 1986 2000 Guineas on To-Agori-Mou and Dancing Brave respectively. In 1974 Greville was one of three jockeys stood down for ‘careless and improper riding’ in Royal Ascot’s Queen Anne Stakes in which they had occupied the first three places.

However, the lasting mystery of his career will remain: just what caused a horse described by Timeform as ‘thoroughly tough, genuine and consistent’ to swerve uncontrollably and dump his jockey? The true answer is likely to sit firmly in the ‘unsolved’ category of racing folklore……

But if it wasn’t the stun gun what done it……..then, just what DID?

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



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