Eugene Brennan examines the colourful life of Paddy Barrie (above) who made a career out of changing horses for big races and was proud that the only people he rammed were the bookies!

Some people paint landscapes, others paint walls, but Paddy Barrie painted horses.

As a stableboy in England, Paddy conned Lady Mary Cameron into selling him a grey mare for £20, dyed it brown and sold it back to Cameron for £350.

Born in Edinburgh, in 1888, Peter Christian Barrie – described as an Irishman born in Scotland – emigrated with his parents to Australia and years later fought with Anzac forces at Gallipoli.

Back in post-war England he was attracted to the racing industry and in 1920 was sentenced to three years’ hard labour in Dartmoor Gaol for running ‘ringers’ (where one horse is substituted for another).

On Barrie’s release in 1923, thriller writer Edgar Wallace ghosted Paddy’s confessions for John Bull magazine and even based some mystery novels on Barrie’s exploits. Paddy, wanting to make a fresh start, emigrated to Canada but had to travel under a false passport as a Reverend Christie. Unfortunately, the Captain placed Barrie at the top of the Captain’s dinner table and cajoled him into delivering a sermon. Having never missed Sunday mass in prison, Paddy later explained: “Ye know if ye keep yer ears open you can get on to that lingo. I listened to plenty of sermons on good and evil, didn’t I?”

Having crossed the border into America, Barrie, abandoning water-soluble dyes that sometimes washed off, developed a special henna dye that withstood repeated washings.

His famous dyes lasted regardless of water, sweat or heat. One day, veterinarians and officials, swooping on the stable to check the winning horse, spent an hour comparing the stallion against its identification papers but had to admit defeat.

No wonder, as Paddy – tipped off that stewards had ordered an investigation – had slipped the real horse back into its stall and tossed a bucket of soapy water over it! His greatest scam, at Maryland Racecourse in 1931, had to be performed in a closed truck en route to the track as there were too many officials at the stables. The trip was made at night, his only light a couple of railroad lamps, as he heated his pans of dye on a small stove and rubbed down Aknahton with it.

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