Eddie 'The Fireman' Birchley, occupations were Fireman, Investor and then Pro Gambler
Sometimes an investor will take a large gamble that supplies a return so spectacular that the investor can fall into a trap of thinking that he can work the same magic with any speculative endeavour.
This mental shortcoming would appear to have seriously inflicted the thinking of one Edward Albert Granville Birchley, aka. Eddie “the fireman” Birchley.
Eddie Birchley was the recipient of a substantial windfall as the result of a risk he undertook by investing in some Gold Coast beachfront property.
Up until that time, he had lived a somewhat pedestrian existence as a member of the Brisbane Fire Department. This investment was made in the times before Queensland's Gold Coast became the international tourist attraction destination for which it now commands rich real estate prices.
Eddie did so well in this real estate venture that he was able to resign the position he had held for 17 years with the fire department to pursue his lifelong ambition to be, of all things, a professional punter.
Unlike many others who obtained this storybook opportunity of a life of leisure, only to recklessly throw it away in short order, Eddie Birchley approached punting with the same methodical approach he applied to his fitness regimen and his short stint as a professional boxer.
Just as he committed himself to swimming and jogging, much of it over considerable distances, on a daily basis, Eddie Birchley took his time studying the racing market before deciding upon his strategy of backing short priced favourites. He patiently waited for the ideal situation rather than throwing his bank around shotgun fashion.
When he finally decided the opportune moment had arrived, Eddie went to the Eagle Farm racecourse and staked his entire fortune, which was in 1974 a considerable sum of $40,000 on a sprinter by the name Tod Maid.
When the horse took the post, Eddie had the second instance of great good fortune serving to cultivate the notion in his mind that he had the golden touch. Birchley would only bet on horses that were short priced favourites, mostly odds on. The shorter the price the better, Birchley would say.
His philosophy was..... It's good value to back a horse at 3/1 on when you know that the right odds are 100/1 on.
When it comes to racing, however, horses often show total disdain for odds, form, trainers, jockeys and previous results. This fact was soon to become apparent to Eddie.
As always, he bided his time and looked for the sure thing upon which to place large punts. The bright lights of Sydney beckoned, where Eddie Birchley, having enjoyed some success in Brisbane subsequent to the large payday he had received for his Tod Maid punt, had decided to test his mettle.
Birchley wagered the staggering sum of $105,000 on Danish Dancer, spreading the bet amongst bookmakers Terry Page, Big Bill Waterhouse and Lennie Burke, only to see Sheil Sail down Danish Dancer.
Eddie then put another $60,000 on when he saw Sheil Sail running two weeks later at Randwick, perhaps thinking that Sheil Sail was obligated to help Birchley recover from the Danish Dancer punt. Sheil Sail did not share this conviction and ran poorly.
Birchley then backed a horse named Princess Thalia that same afternoon to the tune of $70,000. Princess Thalia went down to defeat, which was the source of Birchley's eventual demise as a punter.
Now lapsed into bitterness over his losses, Eddie Birchley threatening to expose corruption amongst Sydney bookmakers as being responsible for his losses. He seems to have dropped the matter before submitting anything by way of proof.
It was Sires Produce Stakes hosted by the VRC in 1975 that Eddie Birchley really hit home. He arrived at the Flemington Racecourse to bet on the Blue Diamond Stakes winner Lord Dudley.
Eddie backed this horse like it had never been backed before. He kept placing bets on the Bart Cummings trained two year old and the bookmakers kept taking his money whilst shortening the price on every bet. When the odds on Lord Dudley reached to 1/10 the bookies discovered that their betting boards could go no lower and they realised that Birchley hadn't finished betting yet.
The bookmakers then started writing the price in pencil in a blank space on their odds boards. At the time of the jump, Lord Dudley was as short as 1/15.
With Roy Higgins in the saddle, Lord Dudley won convincingly and never gave Birchley any cause for alarm, winning the race by two lengths.
Unfortunately though for Eddie, he started to lose more times than he won, so his trips to the tracks became more and more infrequent.
Subsequent to his brief day in the sun as a professional punter, by the late '70s Birchley slipped into obscurity. He was interviewed by a journo in 2004, which would have placed him at around 73 years of age. Time seems to have made him sanguine regarding his punting exploits and he seems to have maintained his lifestyle of endurance swimming and jogging to the extent that he was enjoying robust health for a man of his advanced age.
The story of Eddie “the fireman” Birchley is an oft-repeated one in the annals of racing history.
Flamboyant punts, collusion betwixt bookmakers, connections and riders, and thoroughbreds that inexplicably fail to honour form have always been part of the game, one we would all do well to remember when the urge to, “…make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss…” rears its head in our thinking.