How I Was Scarred by Capone – Football & Racing News – Star Sports

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

BETTING WITHOUT FAMILY, OF COURSE, two of the major loves of my life are horse racing and vinyl records.

The pair do not often naturally fit together, but back in the mid to late sixties, they did so in a way which was not immediately obvious at the time.

Back then, I was besotted by Pauline, who lived a few doors down the road. She in turn was vaguely interested in me, but much more so in a certain Scott Walker, a handsome pop singer of the day.

I regularly frequented the local disco at the King’s Head Hotel, where one of the favourite records of the time was ‘Al Capone’ by Prince Buster, a popular artist amongst disco-goers, whose track was guaranteed to fill the dance-floor. One of the refrains to be heard in the song was ‘Don’t call me Scarface, my name is Capone.’

Coincidentally, the object of my affections just happened to have what I regarded as an extremely attractive small scar on her face, much to the delight of my thoughtless friends who sang along lustily, pointing towards said young lady each time the refrain popped up in the song. My relationship with Pauline was soon scuppered as a result.

But the song, ironically enough of a ‘ska’, (the reggae of its day) rather than ‘scar’, nature, of which I had bought a copy, ( valued at £15 these days by the authoritative Rare Record Price Guide but so much prized to this day by me that I wouldn’t part with it for that – although I might for twice that as I could then buy another copy for much less!), followed me around over the succeeding years. I was, of course, aware that the Al Capone referred to in the lyrics of the record, was a notorious American gangster, but what I wasn’t immediately aware of back then was that he was also keen on the gee-gees, both as a punter, and a racehorse owner.

Horse racing and organised crime have frequently been linked in popular culture: for example, the horse’s head featured in movie, ‘The Godfather’, was that of a racehorse. Then there was Tony Soprano’s affection for a racehorse, Pie-O-My, who, in episode 44 of The Sopranos, wins a race. The horse’s owner, Ralphie, shares the winnings with Tony, who demands a bigger share for the next race. As vet fees increase, and Pie-O-My becomes very sick, the vet refuses further treatment unless he is paid upfront. Ralphie refuses to pay, and gives him Tony’s number, who, when contacted, rushes to the stables, pays up, then goes and sits with Pie-O-My, gently petting and reassuring her.

Later in the series, the horse is killed by a stable fire. Tony immediately suspects that Ralphie instigated the fire,so confronts him, and ended up choking and beating Ralphie to death, yelling at him: ‘She was a beautiful, innocent creature – what’d she ever do to you?’ ” Pie-O-My is, though, remembered by a painting of her and Tony, that he had commissioned while the horse was alive.

This was fiction, but Al Capone himself wasn’t. As a child, he was fond of horses. But apparently he wasn’t a talented punter.

A New York Times article, written by Meyer Berger, who was covering Capone’s trial in 1931, called the gangster a ‘sucker,’ ‘a naive backer of racehorses which never won’, adding:

“The hundreds of thousands he (Capone) made in his own gambling houses were dropped by the handful into the laps of other gamblers – in one pocket and out of the other.’

A witness in a court case against him, William Yario, testified that Capone would bet up to $3000 a time – but rarely on winners.

He had also reportedly told father and son trainers, Ben and Jimmy Jones: “I wanna cash a few bets. You probably got a live horse. Maybe we could have some fun together, and I’ll take care of you if we do.”

Ben and Jimmy entered their useful filly, Missouri Waltz, in a claiming race, reasoning that although she might get claimed, it would be worth it, because she’d win for Capone. She won, and other racing folk, understanding the situation, didn’t claim her. But after this the trainers packed up and moved away from the area to escape Capone’s clutches.

A documentary-type film about Capone, declared: ‘Capone’s presence at horse racing gatherings was not merely a casual hobby; it was a calculated move to blend seamlessly with the public while diverting attention from his criminal enterprises….. Capone, Public Enemy No 1,utilised the chaotic and lively atmosphere of these events to create a facade of normalcy. It was within this seemingly innocuous setting that he could interact with politicians, businessmen, and his criminal associates without arousing suspicion. The racetrack served as Capone’s clandestine boardroom, where covert discussions and deals unfolded amid the thunderous applause and the roar of the crowd. ‘

The Hawthorne Smoke was a gambling house owned by Capone, where the horse racing betting business was run for him by fellow dodgy character Frankie Pope.

Writer, Kate Schmidt highlighted another link between Al and dodgy racing practices, noting: ‘Of Chicago’s three racetracks, ‘Sportsman’s’ best exemplified horse racing’s seedy glamour. It was started as a dog track by Al Capone, who used to fix the races by feeding greasy hamburgers to every greyhound but the one he planned to bet on.’ This racecourse was demolished in 2009.

In the 1990s, a racehorse in France, named Al Capone II (I don’t know what happened to the first!), a full brother to the more than useful The Fellow, enjoyed a decent career, twice winning the King George VI Chase as well as the 1994 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Al Capone II won the Prix Georges Courtois three times in four years between 1993 and 1996, finishing second in 1995. He won the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris in 1997 and gained more recognition by winning Auteuil’s Group One Prix La Haye Jousselin on an amazing, seven consecutive occasions, from 1993 to 1999, then in his final race on November 5, 2000, Al Capone II was runner-up to First Gold (a horse I followed closely, and who won the 2000 King George VI Chase, plus the Punchestown Gold Cup and the Martell Cognac Cup) in the same race, missing out on becoming the first horse to win the same race eight times.

A life-size bronze of the gelding, by sculptor, Jean Clagett, was installed at Auteuil racetrack in the horse’s honour.

I don’t often think of the villainous Capone these days, but I do occasionally wonder what ever became of the lovely Pauline…..

GRAHAM SHARPE

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

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Author: Eugene Morris