Eric Connolly Big Punter

Eric Connolly Big Punter

Eric Connolly Big Punter And Smart Horse Trainer

Considering how much attention horse racing and wagering on horse racing receives, it comes as no surprise that a trainer-then-punter from a bygone era, Eric Connolly, would be a historical figure of considerable significance. As with most legends, his seems to have grown over the course of time.

Eric Connolly was born in the autumn of 1880 at a sheep station in Victoria. He learned of horse racing from his father, who was a horse trainer with some bona fide credentials.

Eric Connolly Big Punter

Eric Connolly supposedly sold a pony in his possession for eight pounds when he was a lad of 15, and then use that money to wager on every race held at Flemington racecourse one day. The story goes that he did so well as to turn his eight pounds into seven hundred.

Eric Connolly Born In 1880

Later, at around the age of 24, Eric Connolly converted a sprinter name The General to a jumper that would go on to win the 1904 Grand National Steeplechase. Connolly was quite fond of that feat.

The obvious talents he had for judging horses and understanding racing were to be of great value to him his entire life.

Eric Connolly Trainer

Eric Connolly accomplishments as a trainer who was adept at all forms of racing were indeed highly adequate.

He prepared Celerity for a win of the 1910 Oakley Plate, a sprint affair, and took the Williamstown Cup in 1913 with Sea Prince. He could also train gallopers for longer distances, a prime example being Murillo’s win of the prestigious Metropolitan Handicap at 13 furlongs in 1927.

Prior to that, however, he produced consecutive winners in what is generally considered a difficult race, the 6 furlong Newmarket Handicap, winning in 1922 with Rostrum, a horse that experienced an undefeated, albeit brief career, and Sunburst in 1923.

Along with the 1923 trophy, Connolly received 100,000 pounds in wager winning to nicely complement his share of the stakes.

It may be that Eric Connolly will be most remembered for a gambit he pulled off in 1929 that more than a few consider one of the most illustrious in the history of horse racing.

He had unsuccessfully tried to purchase a horse named Nightmarch, a champion New Zealand stayer. Connolly therefore inserted himself as the horse’s de facto campaign manager. He backed the horse in the Epsom at Randwick, which the horse promptly won, and then bet against Nightmarch in the Metro, which was won that year by Loquacious.

Nightmarch Heavily Backed

Less than a month later, he again backed Nightmarch against Phar Lap in the 1929 Melbourne Cup at 6/1 odds, plunging almost 200,000 pounds and taking home a substantial windfall when Nightmarch denied  his half-brother Phar Lap.

Eric Connolly was supposedly the mastermind the following year of a plot where he allegedly conspired with one of Phar Lap’s owners to scratch the great champion from the Caulfield Cup so that Amounis might win the Caulfield. It seems the two men had a healthy amount of money wagered on a Amounis/Phar Lap combination for the 1930 Caulfield/Melbourne Cup.

Connolly, whether directly involved or not, reaped a 200,000 pound payday when events played out exactly as his wagers predicted.

Heart Attack Puts Connolly On Leave

All this scheming was not without its price. A heart attack hastened Connolly’s decision to take leave of the racing scene.

While there is a lot of evidence to support the notion that Eric Connolly was not above exerting undue influence on a race now and again, it was not the case that he did so out of a lack of ambition.

He was frequently seen to show up at the track well in advance of the first event, where he undoubtedly could apply his keen horse sense as preparation for that day’s wagers, something that was a part of his work ethic he acquired when he was quite young.

Eric Connolly was also unselfish in his willingness to donate to the less fortunate and various hospitals and churches.

Whether or not this was an effort to salve a guilty conscience is anyone’s guess.

He passed away quite suddenly in October of 1944 of heart issues, leaving behind less than 6,000 pounds, along with the punters’ idiom, “The luck of Eric Connolly.”