When the gamble was the game
The trainer took no chances. When the apprentice jockey completed an exercise gallop on the feature race contender, the trainer "detained" the young man for a few days, locking him up in the stable feed room to ensure word didn't get out about how fast the horse would run on the big day.
If the talkative appy tipped off anyone about the "good thing", it would ruin the betting odds for the connections.
I'm assured that this incident took place in South Africa in the 1960s and it illustrates the vital importance of gambling to yards in days gone by.
Indeed, most trainers relied on betting proceeds to keep their heads above water.
Race stakes were proportionately far smaller than today, as were training fees. With no legislated prize money cut, trainers had to hope owners would dispense gratuities.
Legendary trainer Terrance Millard - winner of six Durban Julys and six Mets - has spoken candidly to me about how he spent years as a struggling young conditioner "setting up" horses for wins at decent odds, and using his winnings to cover ongoing expenses, such as rent, feed and new yearling acquisitions.
Of course, punting is still part of many training operations, but it's an "add-on" nowadays, not nearly as integral as before.
Stable "information" was thus a very precious commodity - closely guarded to ensure an extra few points on the bookies' boards; or dispensed for profit.
The late Stanley Greeff, Port Elizabeth's greatest trainer, was steeped in the tradition.
As a battler in his early days in Cape Town, he supplied information to big punters for commission. Later, when at the top of his profession, inside stable knowledge was a treasured jewel and he made passing on tips to outsiders a sackable offence for staff.
A trainer pal tells me it's difficult to set up a horse for a big gamble today.
Reasons include: horses generally racing fitter now, with nutritional advances; more racing and more horses making the placing of a horse for a sure-fire win trickier; the merit rating system preventing trainers concealing horses' abilities for long; and trainer-jockey working relationships not being as tight as before.
He reckons preparing a horse for a Grade 1 win today has taken the place of the big punt setup. Higher stakes in sponsored races and a greater number of prestigious features mean less reliance on wagers.
Here's a stable betting coup story: In 1836 Lord Bentinck owned and trained a champion called Elis at Goodwood in southern England.
He entered him for the St Leger in York, 350km away. Back then racehorses walked to wherever they might be running and the bookies figured the long journey would take it out of Elis, so priced him up at 12/1.
M'lud claimed those generous odds, then invented the horse-box, a wheeled contraption drawn by six carthorses. Elis was conveyed to York in luxury and "hosed up", as we'd say in the old days.
TURFFONTEIN, TOMORROW: PA - 7,10 x 5 x 8,9 x 2,6 x 1,5 x 9,11 x 1,2,3 (R96)