Cheltenham festival and what it means to on-course bookmakers

Here, we look at how bookmakers are preparing for a busy week of betting over the Cheltenham Festival.

‘We can’t get out of Cheltenham quick enough, bookies are being carried out on stretchers.’ That was the quote from Ladbrokes after a bruising four days at the Festival last year where they alone reckoned to be into losses of £60 million.

‘Lightning is unlikely to strike twice’ is Ladbrokes’ and all the other chains’ motto this year, as once again the Festival will be a war between some of the nation’s biggest punters and bookies.

The legendary bookmaker Freddie Williams was one of those who would stand a huge bet in the ring at Cheltenham, and his battles with owner J P McManus have become folklore.

In 2006, Williams laid McManus £100,000 on Reveillez at 7/1 in the first race of the day – it won.
In the final race of the day McManus placed £5000 each-way with Freddie on Kadoun at 50/1 – it won.

Williams lost over £1,000,000 to McManus on that day

If that wasn’t bad enough Williams and his daughter were robbed by an armed gang on the way back to their Cheltenham hotel and the thieves made off with circa £70,000.

But the man was a legend and the following year he was back at his pitch and taking some of the biggest bets around. He had recovered half of last year’s losses by the second day.

The Festival catches the imagination of all punters no matter how small, and they all help the High Street bookmaker to the best week of the year, with turnover across the country in the region of £350 million.

With online betting the figure increases to £700 million

Betfair is the leading online betting exchange and will trade over £2 million before every race and then substantially more will be added as the market is turned to ‘in-play’ and backers (punters) and layers (bookmakers) trade at fluctuating odds while the race is being run.

A good example of the power of Betfair is the fact that the Champion Hurdle market has already taken £450,000 of bets and we are still over three weeks from the opening day.

The Tote has its biggest week in turnover by far and the Jackpot is guaranteed to pay at least £50,000 each day.

With a quarter of a million people descending on Cheltenham it is no wonder the bookmakers and Tote operators embrace it like no other.

In 2015 the Tote announced a record pay-out of £91,000 for a £1 stake in the Cheltenham Placepot.
They gladly paid the punter as he was one of the few to walk out of Cheltenham that Friday as a winner as the results all went the way of the bookmakers.

The winning starting prices (SPs) for those races were:
25/1, 14/1, 7/1, 6/1, 7/1 and 16/1.

Last year was certainly the worst in living memory for many bookmakers as if the favourite didn’t win (and they did win plenty) then the second favourite obliged and the bookmakers got neither peace nor profit.

Three out of four favourites in the championship races won and the other went to second favourite Sprinter Sacre. Nine outright favourites and one co-favourite were successful in the 28 races staged over the four days.

Only three horses – Min, Un De Sceaux and Yanworth – were beaten at shorter than 2-1 and they all went down to the second favourite. It took until the final race, the Grand Annual, for a winner to be returned at odds above 16-1, and both on-course bookmakers and betting shops took a hammering.

That is all now a distant memory and the stage is set for another four days of top action with many bookmakers cooking up ‘promotions’ that were unheard of just a few years ago. The offer codes for bet365 can give customers up to £200 when they make a new account.

Whilst such figures may seem scarily high to the novice punter, they are merely a drop in the ocean when you look at the wide range of freebies been thrown around in bonus bets and refund offers for this festival.

To entice new punters to part with their hard earned cash, High Street bookmakers are already putting up posters telling punters they can …

‘Have a free bet if your selection finishes 2nd to any winning favourite at Cheltenham’

‘Get your money back if your horse falls or is brought down on the first circuit of any Festival race’

And the latest ‘gimmick’ is they will double your stake if you back a 10/1 winner or bigger at the Festival.

Obviously all these are subject to the relevant bookmakers’ terms and have a limit on how much can be staked.

The bookmaking industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years, with Paddy Power merging with Betfair, Ladbrokes and Coral combining their resources and William Hill being the subject of take-over talks that rocked the City and the bookmaker’s share price.

They, along with every punter up and the down the country, hope that the four days in Gloucestershire go their way!

Further reading on Cheltenham Festival

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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