Harry Findlay makes no secret of the fact that he is a gambler, through and through. It has always been his chosen path and he would not have it any other way.
He was born in 1962 and spent his youth in High Wycombe, working at the local greyhound kennels from the age of 16. A short spell working for a bookmaker made it clear to Findlay that he was on the wrong side of the fence. He has spent most of his life as a professional gambler and his story is the classic roller-coaster ride.
In 1998 Findlay was staring at a debt of £200k and was contemplating selling his mother’s house to stay afloat! Fortunately he managed to turn things around before it came to that. He continued to gamble, confident in his system for betting on the Asian Handicaps at the World Cup and won £2million. There are also many lows in his betting history. He remembers Martina Hingis losing to Iva Majoli in the French Open Tennis final, a very costly defeat. Findlay was also taken to the edge when losing borrowed money on a Milk Cup match between Everton and Watford.
In 2007, Findlay staked an incredible £2.5million on New Zealand to win the Rugby World Cup. A late try from France knocked the All Blacks out of the competition at the quarter-final stage. Findlay had been anxious at half-time and placed a comparatively small bet on the opposition but his losses were still a massive £1.9million. Beaten but unbowed, Findlay would revisit the Rugby World Cup in 2012 with a further £230,000 bet on the All Blacks. This time they met France in the final and just about clung on to victory.
The Denman Years
Findlay will forever be associated with 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman. The dark gelding was bred in County Cork and was a full-brother to Grade One winner Silverburn. He did not race on the flat and made his debut in a point-to-point at Liscaroll which he won by 12 lengths. The horse was spotted by Tom O’Mahony who was acting as a scout for Paul Barber, the landlord of Paul Nicholls. A deal was swiftly concluded and he was put into training at Ditcheat.
Findlay initially bought into the partnership with Barber to provide some racing interest for his mother. Denman’s racing colours were officially registered to her. He would be beaten as a novice hurdler at the 2006 Cheltenham Festival but his future always lay over fences.
Findlay famously described Denman as “The Tank” after he had ploughed through a fence as a novice. The nickname was quickly adopted by the horse’s growing band of followers. Barber and Findlay set their sights on the Sun Alliance Chase and started backing the horse ante-post at 10-1. He recalls telling everyone that he was a “mortgage job” but an unseasonal dry spell a week before the Festival gave him cause for concern. Denman was pressed until half-way but galloped his rivals into the ground and went on to win by ten lengths.
His impressive victory in the Sun Alliance Chase in 2007 set up a clash with Gold Cup winning stable companion Kauto Star the following season. Ruby Walsh stayed loyal to the reigning champion with Sam Thomas riding Denman. Findlay was bullish about the prospects of Denman lowering the favourites colours and the race was billed as one of racing’s great head-to-head clashes. Thomas tracked Neptune Collonges before moving ahead at the twelfth fence and going on to win by seven lengths.
Denman did not win a second Gold Cup but put up arguably his greatest performance to win the 2009 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. He carried 11st 12lbs and successfully conceded 22lbs to stable companion What A Friend. He was retired in 2011 and passed away in 2018.
BHA Ban and Bankruptcy
Things were not always plain sailing for Findlay in racing. In the same year as Denman’s victory, Findlay backed his own horse Gullible Gordon to win at Exeter. He placed £80,000 on it to win but also placed £18,000 on it to lose. He placed similar wagers in October 2009 at Chepstow and faced an investigation from the British Horseracing Association.
He was originally warned off for six months but a disciplinary committee acknowledged that it was on a technical breach of betting on his own horse to lose. There was never any suggestion of foul play and his punishment was reduced to a fine. Findlay remains bitter about the incident and has vowed never to return to horse racing. Less than a month later, most of his National Hunt horses were sold at Doncaster, ending a nine-year association with Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls.
Findlay maintains that the 1999 Irish National Coursing Derby victory of his greyhound, Big Fella Thanks, means more to him than the Gold Cup. However, he also had a run-in with the Greyhound Racing Association in 2013. He invested £1.7million of his own money into Coventry Stadium but failed to secure an official Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Service (BAGS) contract. He eventually had to call it a day and was declared bankrupt at Warwick County Court in July of that year. He admits that it sent him into a deep depression.
As he tried to dig his way out of a financial hole, Findlay found a route to recovery in the unlikely form of Australia’s National Rugby League. He became an avid morning viewer and fastened his colours to the mast of The Rabbitohs. They had not won the NRL since 1971 but Findlay gambled everything he had left on them making history. He won £70k to claw himself, and his family, back out of the doldrums.
Findlay is a great advocate of the betting exchanges because of the small margins. He is less enthusiastic about the 5% commission charged by Betfair. He is also sceptical about hedging and the idea of “cashing out”. If you have backed a horse at 20-1 and still fancy it at 10-1, he sees no logic in betting against it. Findlay also regards it as nonsense to be shy of backing odds-on. He reasons that a 1-2 shot can be good value if you think it should be 1-4. He believes that it is unrealistic to expect to make more than 4% profit on turnover so he bets in significant amounts to make a living.
As his betting history suggests, Findlay will bet on anything if he thinks he has an edge. It would be impossible to highlight one method in his approach. The main thing that Findlay repeatedly stresses is the need for confidence. He believes the mental side of gambling is by far the most important. Anyone can be confident when things are going well but having the ability to keep going in the face of adversity is the ultimate test. He insists that he has always enjoyed the mental challenge more than the money. His roller-coaster past certainly seems to support that view.