UK Bookies Hope Cheltenham Festival Will Break “Right” Kind of Records This Year

Posted on: March 13, 2017, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: March 13, 2017, 04:18h.

UK bookies are expecting a record Cheltenham Festival this week, as the country’s biggest horse racing meet gets underway on Tuesday and continues through Friday.

Thistlecrack missing from Cheltenham
Thistlecrack (pictures) is one of a slew of favorites than have been withdrawn from this week’s Cheltenham Festival. That’s likely to make for more favorable results for the bookies than last year. (Image: Rex Features)

The kind of record they’re hoping for, though, will the exact opposite of last year’s, when they suffered record-breaking losses, the “worst in living memory,” according to one. It was so bad it forced Ladbrokes to issue a profit warning to its shareholders.

An endless string of favorites winning at last year’s festival delivered an estimated £60 million-plus blow to the bookmakers. It’s a loss that they were eager to publicize, of course, and broadcast as evidence they can be beaten, which may well encourage bettors to come back for more this year.    

Digital payment provider Worldpay agrees. It believes bookies will any up to a 60 percent increase in revenue as bettors hope for a repeat of last year.   

Record Volume

2016’s hit was magnified by the fact that not only were the sequence of results among the worst ever (for bookmakers, at least), but there were also simply more people betting than ever before, driven by online gambling.

WorldPay reported 62 percent more betting transactions versus the same day two weeks prior. With similar betting volume and more favorable results, bookmakers are on course (no pun intended) to win recoup their losses this year.

It helps, of course, that this year’s festival is likely to be far less predictable than last year’s, thanks to the withdrawal of a number of favorites, including Thistlecrack, which was strongly fancied for the showpiece Gold Cup event.

“We took a £20 million bath last year,” Breon Corcoran, CEO of Paddy Power Betfair told the Financial Times this week. “We like to think it could be a profitable week [this year].”

“The fields are more open and more competitive, and in theory that should...favour the bookies,” said William Hill’s brand-new CEO Philip Bowcock.

Olympics “Without Usain Bolt”

Of course, conversely, the absence of so many favorites could put bettors off. An anonymous “senior betting industry executive” told the FT that “the festival is missing some stars” and it’s the “equivalent of the last Olympics not having Usain Bolt and Mo Farah running.”

Ladbrokes, which took one of the biggest hits in 2016, is remaining optimistic, however. “This year’s Cheltenham Festival is set to smash all bookmaking records, with massive amounts of money set to be gambled on course, online, and in shops across the country,” said company spokewoman Nicola McCready in an official statement.

“Last year’s festival went down in history as one of the most expensive weeks in living memory for us, so we are praying that we can try and repair some of the damage this year.”