DEREK Flynn, remembered as one of South Africa’s biggest horseplayers of the 1980s and 1990s, died of kidney failure in Johannesburg last week, one day before his 60th birthday.
Tributes have come in from a number of Gauteng racing’s betting veterans, including David Safi, Gary Rahme and Derek Aub, who were all active in racing’s “Golden Era” when Flynn was literally hammering the bookmakers. Six Love. Six Love.
Racing fans old enough to remember or perhaps to have been around to meet some of the old Transvaal’s biggest hitters, name Joe Belaminos, Jack Khan, Hymie Tucker and Derek Flynn as the legends of the racetrack who struck single bets in hundreds of thousands. Fortunes in those days. They had the cash, they weren’t scared and they secured the big wins. They landed some of the biggest coups in racing history in the days when the ‘money horses’ attracted real money and it wasn’t unusual to see runners backed from 25-1 or 20s or 16s or 14s into favourite.
There were shady deals, horses ‘given a run’, horses ‘pulled up’, horses ‘ringed’, racecourses prepared unevenly and many other ‘moves’ from the era that had an influence in results, but Flynn was a rare punter who could read between the lines. He combined serious form study with an in-depth knowledge of the game and made it work for him. And he was fearless.
Former bookmaker Gary Rahme was one of Flynn’s close friends and associates and he recalls: “Derek was as sharp as a razor blade. He didn’t miss a beat. Every day we spent hours in his office going through files of form with a fine comb, looking at race photos and phoning around. We found winners by the dozen and backed them too, but the work didn’t stop in the office. Some extra sources of info were consulted at times.”
Flynn was a firm believer in alumites (aluminium horse shoes) – i.e. only horses that were sent to race in ‘allies’ as opposed to steel shoes, had a chance of winning. Those were the days in which alumite reports weren’t published in the race cards or announced to the public before the start of each meeting.
To stay a step ahead of other serious punters, Flynn befriended grooms in some of the stables around the old Newmarket Training Centre in Alberton, where most of the leading trainers were based and access was easier than at Turffontein. Grooms would let Flynn’s helpers into the stable yard’s on the night before race meetings to point out specific horses so that the unlawful entrants could sneak a peek at the horses’ hooves! On race days, Flynn had his own private alumite report and launched betting strike after betting strike!
David Safi remembers: “The late trainer Alec Uzent once had two horses carded to race and, on form, Derek had identified both as betting prospects. He wanted to be 100% confident so one night he sent his gang to Uzent’s stables. But the training veteran surprised them, produced a shotgun and started firing wildly at the intruders. They ran for their lives, narrowly escaped over a wall and fled to safety. Uzent scratched both his runners the next day, telling the stipes he believed his horses had been ‘got at’ to stop them, which of course wasn’t the case.”
Rahme tells how clever Flynn was at ‘reading’ trainers. He’d spent hours around the parade ruing looking for clues and signals and knew every character like a book. “There were several trainers who struck bets alongside Derek. Derelk would put down, say, 20k and they’d match it for an extra portion of the action. Others gave info away for a mere chop of the spoils.
“Derek was so sharp no trainer could lie to him, or ‘middle’ him as we said in those days. One day a certain trainer had a few runners in one race and he asked Derek to punt one, the favourite. He gave of his own money to match Derek’s bet.
“But Derek got quiet when the runners were milling around on parade and the jockeys came for their instructions. He’d noticed the trainer in question speaking to a young Piere Strydom, the blonde apprentice sensation from Port Elizabeth. Piere was carded on the outsider of the trainer’s party. In Derek’s view, the trainer spent far too little time with the jockey on the favourite and too much time giving instructions to the great young apprentice.
“Derek gave me R20,000 and said, “Go put it on Strydom’s mount! Go! He didn’t cancel his bet on the favourite, but we got 20-1 on the outsider and Strydom produced a late run and came flying up to win going away. Needless to say, Derek told the trainer where to get off!”
Rahme recalls that Flynn’s biggest single win was about R1,5-million on a double taken at Scottsville around 1989 on his own horse Drum-Dee-Doo and another good bet he’d found on then day. “We all celebrated every win and Derek was the most generous man I knew. He gave presents to all his friends, every one around him, even the battlers.
“Some of us that were close to him actually made a good living, though Derek had rules. On race days we were always to be by his side and we weren’t allowed to talk to anyone, not even friends. He was in a zone at the track and went stone-faced and serious. Sometimes I had to go to the parking lot so I could use my car phone to make bets unnoticed, until the Jockey Club’s Captains Dirk Blignaut and Willem Davis caught me and I got warned off for six months,” Rahme laughs. “Today everyone bets from everywhere!”
Cedar Racing of Kyalami’s popular bookmaker Derek Aub, who grew up with Flynn in Mayfair, Johannesburg, tells: “People may not know it, but Derek Flynn was a fantastic soccer player. He captained the South African Junior Side from Under 10 to Under 16 and joined Lusitano as a professional player at the tender age of 17. His brother Ricky Flynn was also very good, he played professionally for clubs like Highlands Park.”
Flynn gave up racing in the 2000s because by then he’d lost a lot of money. With information freely available to the public and the betting pools getting smaller it was hard to retain his edge. The merit rating system also threw a spanner in the works, forcing trainers to run their horses below best to get their ratings dropped. Finding winners became extremely hard and the focus had shifted to the well-paying exotics and percentage-play, like it is today. But he felt it had become a guessing game.
“In his last years Derek tried his hand in the construction business but he had a tough last few years in business and with illness,” Safi said.
Derek Paul Flynn was a good mate to many, a provider to others, a gangster to some. He was a kind man, however, did nobody any harm. He was a colourful and ubiquitous character from an era in which racing was huge and vastly spectacular, He will be fondly remembered for that.