Whilst the bookmaker’s might be littered with used betting slips that failed to pay dividends, history has given the world of sports betting some notable big winners – particularly when it comes to horse racing. Here are a number of our favourite racing gambles to sting the bookies’ satchels, as well as a legendary novelty bet, and one gamble that fell flat on its face.
Elis (1836 St Leger)
One of the earliest successful horse race betting coups on record was the success of Elis in the 1836 St Leger. Elis’s owner, Lord Bentinck, was one of racing’s great reformers and a fearless punter. These were the days when one had to walk one’s horse to the races as decent roads were few and far between. Bentinck was well aware that bookmakers, knowing that he was based down at Goodwood, would lengthen the horse’s odds and he set about constructing a special carriage to transport Elis up to Doncaster. Bookies happily gave Bentinck 12-1 about Elis, but, pulled by six horses at the rate of 80 miles a day, a rested Elis arrived on Town Moor two days before the race and duly hosed up at 7-2.
Forgive n’ Forget (1983 Coral Golden Hurdle Final)
The purists will always associate Forgive n’ Forget as being a Gold Cup winner, but for regular Cheltenham punters his greatest moment came in the 1983 Coral Golden Hurdle Final when he landed owner Tim Kilroe and trainer Jimmy Fitzgerald a massive coup. Despite a field of 23, Forgive n’ Forget was backed off the boards and Mark Dwyer oozed confidence on the 5-2 favourite, waiting until approaching the final flight to deliver his challenge and quickly mastering main market-rival Brunton Park to win by three lengths.
6479/1 Novelty Bet Accumulator (1989)
A 40-year-old night-shift worker from Newport in South Wales walked into his local betting shop on December 30th
1989 and staked £30 on an accumulator, which banked on a series of happenings before the turn of the millennium. The punter’s prayers were with Cliff Richard (4-1) being knighted, U2 (3-1) remaining a pop group, Eastenders (5-1) still being around as a BBC soap opera, and both Neighbours (5-1) and Home Away (8-1) remaining on our British television screens. Two days into the new millennium he walked back into the shop and asked for his winnings, which amounted to £194,400. Nobody had passed on the bet to head office, but after a couple of days it was confirmed as a bona fide transaction, and the punter was duly paid out, his 6,479-1 accumulator still being the largest novelty “killing” in the history of bookmaking. In the high-stakes world of spread betting, what are the odds on a lucky punter beating this record in years to come?
Destriero (1991 Supreme Novices Hurdle)
Mention the name of Destriero and some bookmakers still wince as they recall one of the greatest gambles of the modern era being landed in the 1991 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Irish owner Noel Furlong claims to have netted more than £1m with Destriero, who came to Cheltenham with just the one run over hurdles under his belt, a victory at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. He duly delivered by beating subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Granville Again. “We didn’t run him after Christmas as we didn’t want to end up getting 2-1 instead of 6-1,” beamed Furlong as he headed off to the champagne bar afterwards.
Pasternak (1997 Cesarewitch)
On the Flat, the Autumn Double – the Cambridgeshire and Cesarewitch handicaps – always proves popular with horse race betting aficionados, and one of the great successful plunges for the nine-furlong Cambridgeshire cavalry charge was with Sir Mark Prescott’s Pasternak in 1997. If not quite on the same scale as Hackler’s Pride, who is reputed to have won his connections the equivalent in modern-day values of around £12m when landing the 1903 Cambridgeshire, Pasternak, is reckoned to have taken an amazing £5m out of the racing betting market. Rock had told everyone who would listen that they could “have what you like on Pasternak”, and, though he was offered at 11-1 on the morning of the race, The Racing Post’s front page headline “Why you must back Pasternak” captured the punters imagination, and bookies ran out of chalk shortening him up, and he eventually did the business at 4-1.
Top Cees (1999 Chester Cup)
The infamous Top Cees was one of a string of big-race gambles to come off in the Cesarewitch, but he will always be remembered more for that Chester Cup triumph when he landed some huge bets for Jack and Lynda Ramsden, which led to a High Court case between Kieren Fallon and The Sporting Life, from which the jockey emerged triumphant, having been cleared of any wrong-doings in the horse’s prep-race at Newmarket.
Looks Like Trouble (2000 Cheltenham Gold Cup)
Trainer Noel Chance still has a 50-1 voucher about his 2000 Gold Cup winner Looks Like Trouble, who powered away from Irish favourite Florida Pearl to win chasing’s most coveted crown at 5-2. “He had won the Sun Alliance Chase the previous year, and I thought that 50’s was an insult, so I helped myself and it paid for a new conservatory,” said Chance.
Monty’s Pass (2003 Grand National)
The Irish are renowned for being fearless punters, and Blackpool-born Mike Futter, who owns three bingo halls in Dublin and seven in Northern Ireland, certainly had the leprechauns on his side when he landed a monster gamble with his own horse Monty’s Pass in the 2003 Grand National. Futter, together with his four co-owners, is reported to have netted £1m plus, with individual horse racing bets of £5,000 each-way at 33-1 and £10,000 each-way at 20-1 “paying for the bubbly”. “I tipped off all my customers, and the Northern Ireland clubs alone raked in £1.3m, but I laid a lot of my own bets off to business partners and by the end of the day only £250,000 went into my own ledger, which is not a bad day’s work,” confessed Futter with a smile.
Son of Flicka (2012 Coral Cup)
Donald McCain certainly follows in the footsteps of his legendary father Ginger McCain when it comes to knowing how to train a horse and his inmate Son Of Flicka landed an almighty touch in the Coral Cup at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival. Arriving on an 11-race winless run that went back nearly two years, the gelding was priced up by some bookies at a huge 66/1 on the morning of the race, typically one of the most competitive and unpredictable of the week. But connections ploughed into it at all prices and he returned a comfortable winner at 16/1 under Jason Maguire. His owner Phil Williams landed £900,000 on his own – the last time he’s won anything from the horse who has failed to win in 12 subsequent starts.
Pont Alexandre (2013 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle)
The Cheltenham Festival is again the setting for the last gamble. Willie Mullins is Ireland’s finest jumps trainer and when the money comes for one of his, it’s usually worth heeding. Pont Alexandre arrived at Prestbury Park for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle with the tallest reputation around having made a flawless start to his hurdling career with three wide-margin wins. Despite a quality field, the son of Dai Jin was backed into 6/4 favouritism for the Grade 1 race but, despite leading for much of the race, he couldn’t match the speed of winner The New One and faded into third, saving the bookies a fortune. Pont Alexandre has not raced again.
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