The first major gambling fraud – Epsom Derby, 1844


 width =The Epsom Derby, a horse race for 3-year-olds, is historic for several reasons. Let's not start gambling fraud immediately. But first look at the word Derby. That is because it originates in that competition in Epsom, at least in the current sports meaning of the word. A derby is then a match between two clubs from the same city. Even in the origin of that word there is a gambling element.

The Epsom Derby

In 1779 Edward Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby, organized a friendly horse race. The noble friends sat together afterwards. They decided to make it an official race for 3-year-old horses. Both Edward and Charles Bunburry, an important man in the racing world of that time, wanted to give their name to the race.

They decided to let fate decide. Edward Stanley won when tossing a coin. He was allowed to determine the name of the race. The Earl of Derby called it the Epsom Derby. The first competition, a year later, was won by Charles Bunburry's Diomed horse.

The first major gambling fraud

For the owners of the horses, horse racing was mainly about honor. But of course bets were also made during the games. In 1844, the first major gambling fraud occurred during the Epsom Derby. It was a scandalous event with doping, false accusations, devious transfer of ownership, corruption and abuse of power.

The fraud was conceived by Abraham Levi Goodman. He was of Jewish descent. That meant you were discriminated against in Victorian England. Goodman was excluded from many activities. His response was a preference for unfair and later criminal activities. That coupled with his ambition and intelligence made him a dangerous man without scruples.

Crockford and Gully

William Crockford was the great man of the gambling houses in London. He had worked his way up from being a fishmonger to one of the richest people in England. His opponent was John Gully. He became a butcher's son to a great man of the horse races in England. They regularly met. Because they also liked to gamble themselves and they did that both in the gambling houses around London and on the racetrack. They were rivals. But Crockford and Gully had one thing in common: they managed to hold the nobility together.

Epsom Derby illustration

Illustration of the Epsom Derby a few days later in the Illustrated London News

The popularity of gambling in gambling houses or on the racing track changed regularly. And gambling was always cheated. But during periods when there was less enthusiasm for racing bets, the fraudulent actions on the racetrack increased. They could consist of the use of doping, perjury, corruption and more. It all came together in the Epsom Derby.

A final big guess

At the beginning of 1844, Crockford had to appear before a government committee that wanted to revise the Gambling Act. He was sick, felt his end approaching and had been aimlessly at home for a while. Frustrated by the investigation and by his physical weakness, he decided to take a big gamble again.

Three days before the Epsom Derby he went to the horse club. There was already a lot of talk about betting. And he saw his rival John Gully, the owner of the horse Ugly Buck. He challenged Gully. His horse could not beat Ratan, the horse of Crockford.

Lost bet

The stakes were extremely high. From an 8 to 1, it quickly went to 1000 to 1. On May 22, the horses ran the race. Officially the bet was 9 against 4 for Uggly Buck and 5 against 2 for Ratan. But behind the scenes, Gully, Crockford and several friends of the two gentlemen had also bet.

There were 29 horses at the start. It started well. But the horses lost, and with it both Gully and Crockford lost a considerable fortune. Later it turned out that the horses were drugged. Crockford died three days after the race.

Running Rein

Winner of the race was Running Rein, a horse from Anthony Wood. At a short distance followed the horse Orlando of Colonel Peel, the brother of the then Prime Minister of England Robert Peel. It was immediately clear that something was wrong. A few days before the race, George Bentinck, also a horse owner, had already insisted on research into Running Rein. Now he intensified the pressure on the race management.

However, only the owner of the horse that came in second could object. That happened within an hour of the race. Then the fraud soon came to light. Not Running Rein had run the race, but Maccabaeus, a four-year-old horse.


Epsom Derby

Illustration from the Illustrated London News of 25 May 1844. Running Rein is still named as the winner.

A lawsuit against Anthony Wood followed on July 1, 1844. This owner turned out to be innocent. Abraham Levi Goodman was the pivot in the web of conspiracy. He had bought Maccabaeus more than three years earlier. With simple black hair dye the horse looked like Running Rein. Then the doping of the favorite horses, those of Crockford and Gully, fake documents and more.

After hearing all the evidence, the judge wanted to see the horse Running Rein himself. The horse turned out to be gone. The judge then concluded that fraud had been proven. The horse Orlando was designated as the winner. Goodman and his helpers fled to France.

George Bentinck received a reward for his dedication to the business and the equestrian sport. He thereby established a fund for trainers and jockeys. After the trial, several rules were tightened at horse racing. However, we now know that future frauds were not prevented.

New interest

A few years ago, the fraud at the 1844 Epson Derby suddenly attracted a great deal of interest. Several books were published about the race. Nick Foulkes released the book in 2011 Gentlemen and Blackguards from. The subtitle is: Gambling Mania and the Plot to Steal the Derby of 1844.

In the same year, the much-praised book “In Search of Running Rein“By Tony Byles. He wrote a detailed book, after researching newspapers, court records and other documentation.

Last year Keith Baker came up with a book, The Stakes were High, about John Gully. He also writes extensively about the scandals during the Epsom Derby in the last year of gambling phenomenon William Crockford. And early this year, the book became the much-praised book


For the above story we used the two above-mentioned books from 2011. There are also books from an earlier date.
An interesting book is Chapters from Turf History from 1922 by John A Severns. Chapter 6 deals with the Epson Derby from 1844 (pdf). He describes the race and the court case.

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