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Legendary Queensland handicapper Lester Grimmett has retired – telling tales from the infamous Fine Cotton ring-in day in 1984

There was a surprisingly big crowd at a modest Eagle Farm meeting on Saturday but little did they know they were within a stone’s throw of a significant piece of racing history.

Legendary handicapper Lester Grimmett, 74, was having his retirement party overlooking the track and brought with him the official racebook and his handwritten notes from the infamous day in 1984 when racing was rocked by one of its biggest scandals.

The official 1984 racebook, with the page featuring Fine Cotton, from the infamous Fine Cotton ring-in day. Lester Grimmett’s notes and shorthand are on the page.Source:Supplied

Grimmett was in the stewards’ room taking notes for the stewards’ report when the fluctuations started to tumble in for a horse named Fine Cotton with the price of the modestly performed galloper nosediving from 33-1 to 7-2 equal favourite.

Punters were prepared to take any price about the horse (which later turned out to be the better performed Bold Personality) which showed a glaring form improvement to win.

There were madcap scenes as trainer Hayden Haitana fled the course and the horse was disqualified with punters irate after stewards ordered all bets to stand meaning that punters who had backed Fine Cotton lost their money.

It set off an extraordinary chain of events which would reverberate around racing for decades but Grimmett, who had a front-row seat in the stewards’ room that day, recalls how it all unfolded.

“They had a fluctuations monitor in the stewards room and they started coming in – I actually think they bet 50-1 but by the time they sent the fluctuations down south to the other tracks it might have been 33-1 and then it came right in,” Grimmett says.

“In those days there were a few that used to get backed heavily but everyone there knew something was not right this day.

“The stewards knew something was up before the race as the horse had done nothing – he was probably a 50-1 chance on the last few runs.”

Stewards quickly pounced when bookmakers cried foul and uncovered the nefarious plot as white paint dripped from fake markings on “Fine Cotton’s” legs as shouts of ‘ring-in” screamed around the track.

The syndicate, headed by John Gillespie, had originally earmarked another horse, Dashing Solitaire, who was almost identical to Fine Cotton.

But when Dashing Solitaire was injured, the crooks were forced to use Bold Personality instead but had to apply paint to the vastly different looking galloper in a clumsy bid to disguise him.

Grimmett, like just about everyone else who was witness to the crazy scenes that day, insists it was an amateur hour scheme which never had any chance of success.

“I watched the race from the stewards tower, halfway up, and after the race I checked the brands of the horse, even though it wasn’t really up to me as I was a shorthand writer that day,” he remembers.

“It was obvious to me and it was obvious to everyone it was a dead set ring in – it was big.

“But it was never going to be correct weight – you couldn’t possibly give correct weight until you worked it all out.

“I didn’t see the trainer Hayden Haitana after the race – they (stewards) went to stalls to get the horse’s papers and the trainer had bolted.”

The front cover of the racebook from the day of the infamous 1984 Fine Cotton ring-in scandal.Source:Supplied

Grimmett, who got his start in racing in 1969, says the Fine Cotton ring-in will always remain his most memorable and extraordinary day at the races.

Grimmett oversaw a golden age in Queensland racing – he weighed out the likes of Strawberry Road and Vo Rogue as well as Chief De Beers, who he still singles out as his favourite horse.

The stories rolled just about as freely as the beer at his retirement party but Grimmett says there is one irrefutable fact from all his days in racing.

As a handicapper, he got plenty of calls from trainers who claimed he had weighted their horses with too much of an impost.

But, he laughs, he never got a single call from a trainer saying he had got the weight just right for their horse.

Originally published asMemories of Fine Cotton ring-in come flooding back

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