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The Racetrack Gangs (Paperback)

Four Decades of Doping, Intimidation and Violent Crime

True Crime P&S History 20th Century

By Dick Kirby
Imprint: Pen & Sword True Crime
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526778727
Published: 30th October 2020

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Between the two World Wars, there was a dramatic upsurge of violence as rival criminal gangs vied for rich pickings from bookmakers at racetracks throughout England.

With ready access to cash, ‘bookies’ were a magnet for mobsters’ blackmailing demands. Refusal to pay resulted in severe punishment. Their justified fears spawned a ready ‘protection’ market .

Conflict between rival gangs were frequent and increasingly violent. Charles ‘Darby’ Sabini with his brothers ran ‘The Italian Mob’ who clashed with Billy Kimber and his Brummagen Hammers.

Uneasy partnerships were formed but seldom lasted. The Sabinis were friendly with the Cortesi family until a rift resulted in one of the Cortesis shooting Harryboy Sabini. Other gangs such as The Titanics and The Nile Mob were ready to fill voids. As well as broken alliances, internal friction and members changing sides resulted in bloodshed on the streets, in pubs and clubs and on the courses. Public order was so threatened that the Flying Squad was tasked with the eradication of the problem and, in 1936, the celebrated Battle of Lewes Racecourse brought matters to a bloody conclusion.

This well researched and gripping account describes the vicious dramas played out in the 1920s and 1930s.

Well-researched and abounding in details. There were so many names it was hard to keep track of who each was in relation to all the others. Aside from that, the narrative was well written and, for the most part, chronological. It was interesting to read about how society, the police, and the courts dealt with gang violence in the early part of the twentieth century.

NetGalley, Brenda Yeager

In the 1920s and 30s, there were many rival gangs regularly blackmailing bookmakers at English racecourses. Failure to pay up often resulted in severe punishment, creating something of a racetrack protection racket. During that period most racecourses were plagued by these violent gangs armed with weapons, ready to bully bookies for a percentage of their takings.

This account details such vicious gangs as the Italian Mob (ran by the Sabini brothers), Billy Kimber’s Brummagen Hammers, the Titanics and the Nile Mob (amongst others) and their partnerships, fallings out, and rifts, cataloguing their internal and external fighting. Indeed the problem became such a threat to public order that the Flying Squad was brought in try and eradicate.

Well researched and somewhat graphically detailed at times, anyone with an interest in early 20th century gang warfare and/or racing /betting history will find this a fascinating read.

NetGalley, Mike Godfrey

This was a good, detailed book about the history of gangsters (specifically the 1920s & 30s racetrack gangs) across England.

I hadn’t realised that the TV show Peaky Blinders was actually based on a real gang or that Billy Kimber was a real guy.

Overall definitely worth a read if you’re interested in history/gangs/horse racing or betting.

NetGalley, Rebecca Burke

Between the two World Wars, there was a dramatic upsurge of violence as rival criminal gangs vied for rich pickings from bookmakers at racetracks throughout England.

With ready access to cash, ‘bookies’ were a magnet for mobsters’ blackmailing demands. Refusal to pay resulted in severe punishment. Their justified fears spawned a ready ‘protection’ market .

Conflict between rival gangs were frequent and increasingly violent. Charles ‘Darby’ Sabini with his brothers ran ‘The Italian Mob’ who clashed with Billy Kimber and his Brummagen Hammers.

Uneasy partnerships were formed but seldom lasted. The Sabinis were friendly with the Cortesi family until a rift resulted in one of the Cortesis shooting Harryboy Sabini. Other gangs such as The Titanics and The Nile Mob were ready to fill voids. As well as broken alliances, internal friction and members changing sides resulted in bloodshed on the streets, in pubs and clubs and on the courses. Public order was so threatened that the Flying Squad was tasked with the eradication of the problem and, in 1936, the celebrated Battle of Lewes Racecourse brought matters to a bloody conclusion.

Well-researched and intricately researched this was an absolute pleasure to read.

NetGalley, Julianne Freer

Old school gangster cool...that pretty much summarizes this book! Heavy on details at times, gory details, so beware! What a neat subject to read about, great idea for a book and so well researched!

NetGalley, Kamila Bouvier

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Extremely informative and enlightening, well written and presented, researched brilliantly and considering some of the locations this occurred in, i used to live almost in the exact places these actions occurred Made it all the more real and frightening. I discovered many things I was unaware of surrounding the Kingston and the Ewell area that happened years ago and it made me feel more involved in the book as a whole.
Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in gang activity from years gone by or anyone with a keen interest in history.
Many thanks for allowing me to read it.

NetGalley, Phil Roberts

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Racetrack Gangs is the latest book about crime and policing in days gone by from the consistently excellent Dick Kirby, whose back catalogue I'm currently working my way through.
This is the story of the vicious gangs who plagued the racetracks of England between the World Wars, terrorising Bookies and engaging in vicious feuds with each other.

Often split on racial lines these gangs would openly have mass battles with razors,knives,coshes and even firearms involved ,often in public in crowded places showing that our current gang problem and the mass battles between rival football supporters that were common a few years ago,thankfully quite rare now, are nothing new. It does seem at times that the book is a relentless list of savagery carried out by vicious sociopathic people who felt themselves above the law, an attitude enhanced by corruption and threats meaning that they often walked free from Court when very obviously guilty of appalling crimes. My Great Grandfather was a Metropolitan Police Constable at the time who told my Dad that he dispensed more justice in back alleys than the courts ever did, reading this book I now have a better understanding of what he meant.

As always with Dick Kirby's books he brings the events, the era and the people to life. This is a real eye-opener for those who think our society has got more violent and our legal system is far too lenient, if anything London is a safer place and it appears the courts have never been fit for purpose. The book shows how the racetrack gangs, before some very "hands on" policing and the advent of legal off-track betting shops , were linked to the ascendancy of people like Billy Hill and Jack Spot and that the Krays,far from being a new phenomenon,were merely following in a long line of savage thugs ,some of whom they admired greatly, who used extreme violence and terrorised their local communities for their own end.

The book reads almost like a Wild West saga,the gangs rampaging across the racetracks ,having very public pitched battles,ambushes,stabbings,shootings and then the police given a free reign fighting fire with fire. As always Dick Kirby concentrates on the big characters on both sides of the law and intersperses the narrative with his characteristically forthright comments on today's law enforcement and legal system's failings.

NetGalley, Dave Blendell
 Dick Kirby

About Dick Kirby

Dick Kirby was born in the East End of London and joined the Metropolitan Police in 1967. Half of his twenty-six years’ service was spent with Scotland Yard’s Serious Crime Squad and the Flying Squad. 


Kirby contributes to newspapers and magazines on a regular basis, as well as appearing on television and radio. The Guv’nors, The Sweeney, Scotland Yard’s Ghost Squad, The Brave Blue Line, Death on the Beat, Scotland Yard’s Gangbuster, Scourge of Soho, London’s Gangs at War, The Mayfair Mafia and Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad are all published under the Pen & Sword True Crime imprint and he has further other published works to his credit. In retirement he lives near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Kirby can be visited at his website: www.dickkirby.com.

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