The spirit of Christmas

sandwichesTwo different faces of the Christmas spirit were on show in racing yesterday: theft and generosity.

The theft, not of presents, but of money, had taken place on a systematic basis from the Post Office in Ireland over a 14 month period spanning 2010 and 2011. Tony O’Reilly, who was a Post Office manager in County Carlow, siphoned off almost €400,000 over that time to fund a gambling addiction.

He ran an account with Paddy Power under the name “Tony Ten” and soon found himself on the bookmaker’s valued client list, where he was invited on all expenses paid trips to the Europa League Final in Dublin and the Irish Derby at the Curragh. That’s not surprising when you consider that in the time of his spree, the account had a turnover of around €10m, and racked up €8.3m winnings and €1.7m losses.

O’Reilly was ready to bet on anything, with darts, football, horseracing, golf, snooker and American football all regularly appearing on his slips. He wagered big, too, with one bet of €40,000 on the Norwegian women’s football team.

If O’Reilly had stopped in April 2010, when he had stolen only €8,000 his theft might well never have come to light. In court, it came to light that he had changed a receipt from €97,538 to €397,538. Some rate of inflation! That was discovered in a regional audit, at which point O’Reilly went on the run, not to Egypt, but to Northern Ireland. His exile lasted just 11 days, after which he contacted his family, and was subsequently arrested.

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Despite a claim from his defence counsel that O’Reilly had not benefited from the money – how could he if he was losing so much? – He was sent to prison for four years, with the judge saying his theft was deliberate and systematic.

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There was a marked contrast at Exeter, where after the abandonment of racing, the track’s caterers were left with thousands of sandwiches on their hands. Rather than throw them away, they called in St Petrock’s, a local charity working with the homeless. Last night some were handed out on the streets of Exeter and others put into food parcels for other vulnerable people.

At the racecourse, an 8am inspection had been called for yesterday by clerk of the course Barry Johnson, but incessant overnight heavy rain left him with an easy decision to call the meeting off early. The course had been hit with 46mm of rain in 24 hours. "It is still absolutely hammering down and we are due another 10mm before 11am," Johnson said yesterday morning. "There's no point delaying it – we've got no chance of racing so we may as well call it off now. It's so frustrating, it was a good card, especially with the Peterborough Chase here." ** Now re-routed to Kempton on 27 December.

As a result, plan B came into effect to ensure the sandwiches were put to good use.

Linda Sillifant, kitchen manager at St Petrock’s, said: " We were absolutely delighted and it shows the spirit of Christmas still exists. It was very kind of the racecourse to think of us. All the homeless here had sandwiches; we gave some to another hostel, Gabriel House, and the rest are going to the Soup Kitchen at St David's Church."

I’m signing off now for a few days, but I’ll be back after the holidays with more racing news. Happy Christmas everyone.

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