A Very French Disconnect?

by Ulf Lindström

Upsalin was the morningline favorite. He had won last year, 1969. Most punters opted for adding Une de Mai too on their trifecta ticket, the Tiercé. As for the rest of the field? This year the Prix d'Amérique was a toss-up. Tony M perhaps, and what about the American entry Snow Speed?

Patrice des Moutis, onboard Air France's Caravelle to Geneva to attend a funeral service, immersed himself in Paris Turf's coverage of the race. What scenarios were likely, better still, more rewarding to the serious punter?

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"Any luggage to check, Monsieur..? Oh! Just Paris Turf, bien sûr.“

Une de Mai, proven form, was never comfortable with the Vincennes track. But what about her stable mate, Toscan? Same pedigree (Kerjacques), same owner: bagging the Prix d'Amérique would mean better aggregate return on stud fees for Toscan than what one foal every year out of Une de Mai would net for the owners.* Patrice, gifted mathematician, no-nonsense man and high-roller, recognized himself in part-owner Pierre-Désiré Allaire's position. Patrice bankered Toscan, mixed 2nds and 3rds on his Tiercé after, as per his forte, having excluded half the field as also-rans.


Une de Mai, before she disappointed in the breeding barn she went on to win the 1971 International Trot before a capacity crowd.

Patrice picked up the rental car, drove across the border back to France and stopped at an inn to call his wife in Paris. Bien sûr, the flight was alright. He also shared his analysis of the Tiercé, since she just happened to entertain a dozen guests at their villa for brunch and some food for thought. "Au revoir, Madame!" The guests dashed off, hitting for nearby cafés with the PMU off-track betting machines, closing counters at 1:00 PM.

"Excellent choice, Monsieur! And a calvados, perhaps?“

Snow Speed and Gerhard Krüger gunned for the lead as the gate left - the Prix d'Amérique was raced with moving gate between 1965 and 1975 - but suddenly pulled up hard. Trailing Upsalin hit Krüger's sulky. Both horses went down. Une de Mai soon found the rail but, in a curious move, left for outside to let Toscan pass comfortably inside. He cruised down the homestretch to a three-length victory and 380,000FF (equivalent to c. 400,000€ today), Tony M second and Tidalium Pelo finishing third. Phony race? Yes. Fixed? Jury still out, sine die.**

"Order of finish: 10-2-11." Odds 1,550 for the 3-francs Tiercé in correct order. Patrice's family and his guests for brunch were looking ahead to payouts of 31,000 franc apiece (in today's currency 37,000€.) Madame des Moutis, obviously not burdened with doing the dishes, also had time left to effect her husband's Couplé bets (cf., place). That netted four million franc, or 4.7 million euro in today's money.

Patrice's banker in Prix d'Amerique 1970, but the PMU closed the payout window.

Pleased to accept the bets of the Moutis and friends, the PMU now decided not to honor the winning tickets. Patrice, after having scored a big Tiercé win in 1962 in the i Prix de Bordeaux, was on the radar of the PMU as an alleged fraudster.

True, on that day eight years previously the track condition at Vincennes was awful, a sea of mud. Drivers went through the race with the prime objective of avoiding injury to their horses, like Roger Vercruysse and his never to be seen favorite Normandie. Still, there were irregularities enough to suspect that the Prix de Bordeaux had been tampered with. A stack of correct Tiercé tickets had been fed into the pool with the maximum amount allowed at betting outlets in Paris, Lille, Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille. Payout reached a combined 105 million franc, or 140 million euro. Media had a field-day: another scam pulled off by the 'Mafia du Tiercé' headed by 'Monsieur X' in media speak, known as Patrice des Moutis among horse people across racing disciplines.

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Boss of the 'Mafia du Tiercé' or the Robin Hood of the punters?

Patrice des Moutis was born 1921 in Neuilly-sur-Seine as one of six siblings in a well established bourgeois family. His gift for analytical thinking was confimed by graduating from the prestigious École Centrale, from where he went to work in the family's small insurance company. Fanning out from the family's summer retreat in Normandy, Patrice won entre in the thoroughbred milieu - Deauville, Chantilly, Daniel Wildenstein, Aly Khan - and also the select society of nocturnal card games. Playing the ponies at Newmarket and similar diversions were offered by British bookmakers and their bagmen across the Channel.

France of the fifties. "The beautiful people" never knew of British council housing reeking of cheap cooking oil, the pettiness of American life in suburbia, the toil of the Boche for the Wirtschaftswunder. Pat, as he was known among friends and guests at the thoroughbred crowd's restaurant Pré Catelan, enjoyed the pleasures of life. That included Le Grand Cercle on Rue de Presbourg, a gambling place for the high-rollers. It was managed by the Corsican mob, politically protected by the Gaullists as quid pro quo for doing wet jobs on collaborators during and after the war. This, it would dawn on him years later, was not a clientele that would serve Patrice's public image.

"Why, no Monsieur, never heard of him!“

How did Patrice des Moutis get the hang of both thoroughbred and harness racing? His approach always began by weeding out half the fields of a race. But as for the finer points, Jamie Reid's book doesn't elaborate.§ Patrice, like the conscientious student, used colored markers to construct codes for likely outcomes. But he also brought variables of social and economic dimensions into the analyses, like the Tiercé for the Prix d'Amérique in 1970.

Warmups and the paddock were not accessible for his handicapping. Suddenly banned from the tracks, a measure heartily endorsed by the French federations of horse racing and breeding, Patrice went ballistic, beset by revenge on the PMU. He had complied with all its previous restrictions on the number of tickets and amount of deposit by one and the same punter. Pacta sunt servanda! If his friends - and their friends in turn - appreciated a tip for the Tiercé, well, he couldn't prevent them from having another latte and croissant at a nearby café.

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Patrice des Moutis

The PMU's harassment of Patrice, the hypocrisy of protecting the interest of the "little guy" and his innocent bet by confiscating Patrice's winnings, egged him on. He pictured nimble fingers in the till too, the greed of the horse owners organizations. Thoroughbred runners were liable to be wooed across to British turfs, harmful to the breeding of domestic bloodstock and purse money in all racing disciplines. The equine industry of France at this time was basically state-run. Patrice's fans, initially fired by the media hailing him as the Robin Hood of the gamblers, resented the PMU for feeding its bloated bureaucracy fat salaries.

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Fixed! Ever since the notorious baseball finals in America in 1919, sports coverage had been thrilled by the faintest sign of foul play. 'More common than one thinks,' it belongs to the realm of jargon. To clinch an agreement, then to expect twelve to sixteen jockeys/drivers - perhaps even trainers, owners, grooms -  to zip up, the stewards to sleep on the job? "Fuggedaboutit," as Tony Soprano would have said about entering his own horse..


Arnold Rothstein, the Fixer of all Fixes.

Be that as it may, was it Patrice who fixed the hurdle race Prix Bride-Abattue at Auteuil in 1973? Again the PMU closed the payout window for the Tiercé: 550 milion franc were impounded. OK, the odds was a whooping 13,468. The race was held at Marseille's track (hrm, French Connection). Opposite the track's main entrance was the café Le Skating, Corsican joint, scene of the rubbing out of small-time boss Vincent Ascione, a setting bearing the mark of lowlifes. In the outer circles hovered the figure of Jacky Imbert, Jacky Le Mat, trotting amateur champion-driver and part-owner of a stud farm with actor Alain Delon. (Jacky, having survived a hit of twenty-two bullets, retired as the "Last Godfather of the Riviera" to open a hairdressing salon in Marseille together with his fourth wife.)

Jacky Imbert:
"Why I retired? You want the twenty-third reason, Mister?“

Patrice des Moutis fell by his own hand in 1975, in his garden by a family heirloom of a shotgun. He had plummeted into depression after the court trial of the hurdle race Prix Bride-Abattue cracked the wall of silence. A couple of the involved jockeys, one who was charged with holding back the favorite, spilled the beans. Patrice, who was never convicted, spent 142 days in custody looking at five years in prison before being released on medical grounds.

The summation of the court was based on the interest of the PMU more than on the evidence; in the French tradition: Vice, if it is to be practised, should be conducted under the state's supervision.

* This, he didn't know, though: Une de Mai only had one foal, a filly that never left a mother-line of significance. Toscan was registrered for 241 offspring.
**Badly edited and incomplete film on YouTube via "Prix d'Amerique 1970".
§Jamie Reid, Monsieur X (2018).


© Nikolaus Matzka 2014–2022