Legendary jockey Frankie Dettori left the layers reeling when he rode four consecutive winners on Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot this summer. The Italian rider began the day by clinching a fine victory aboard 5/1 shot A’Ali, and he then steered Sangarius to success in the Hampton Stakes. Star Catcher, a promising three-year-old from the John Gosden stable, handed him a sensational treble when he saluted in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes.
That result set tongues wagging across the country, and the best was yet to come. Next up was the Gold Cup, the showpiece event of the entire meeting, and Dettori led defending champion Stradivarius into the fray once more. Bjorn Nielsen’s superstar delivered a customary turn of pace to show his rivals a clean set of heels, and soon Dettori was performing his trademark flying dismount celebration.
Memories of the Magnificent Seven
That sparked serious jitters among the bookmakers, who clearly feared a bloodbath. It evoked memories of his Magnificent Seven, a feat achieved back in 1996. Dettori took the bookies to the cleaners by winning all seven races on the card, including the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Wall Street, Diffident, Mark of Esteem, Decorated Hero, Fatefully, Lochangel and Fujiyama Crest all triumphed to secure a near-impossible accomplishment for Dettori.
He wrote his name into the record books and single-handedly cost bookmakers more than £30 million. Many punters still back all of his riders in accumulators, Yankees, Canadians and so on at big meetings, and the bookies feared the worst on Ladies’ Day this year.
In the fifth race on the card, he rode Turgenev, who began the day at 25/1 and went all the way in to just 7/2 as Dettori mania gripped the nation. The bookmakers would have been having heart palpitations when he took Turgenev to the front and looked to be cruising to victory, but he was eventually overhauled by Biometric and could only finish second.
An Immense Sigh of Relief
The bookmakers breathed a huge sigh of relief, but they were still licking their wounds. Sky Bet said it was “looking down the barrel of the worst day in our history”, adding that Biometric reeling in Turgenev amounted to “the biggest swing in recent memory for the bookmaking industry”. Paddy Power was bracing itself for the biggest pay-out in its history.
Bet Fred and Betfair spoke of their immense relief, Ladbrokes called it “a bloodbath” and Betway was just happy that Biometric saved it from “a titanic loss”.
In a bid to protect themselves from future damage, some bookies began to impose restrictions on punters that wanted to place multiple bets on the 48-year-old Italian. Bet365 decided to block all multiple wagers on Dettori’s rides, causing Paddy Power to poke fun at its rival. Sky Bet also restricted multiples on Dettori’s higher priced rides on the final day. “Punters will not be able to place all those horses in trebles and upwards but it’s due to the sheer size of liabilities we have been accruing in previous days,” said spokesman Michael Shinners.
Turning in Their Graves
Star Bet’s Ben Keith said Joe Coral, William Hill and Cyril Stein would be “turning in their graves” at the attitudes of the bookies, calling them “utterly pathetic”. He added: “How do you not lay a multiple? You can always put the last two in short or say SP only the last leg. They’re going to get their bum smacked once every ten years. It's happened and they’ve shown that they’re not actually bookmakers.”
In the end, Dettori’s luck ran out and the winners dried up on the final days of the meeting, but the whole situation continues to reverberate around the industry. It sets an interesting precedent for bookmakers, particularly as it was 23 years since Dettori last gave them a giant nosebleed. In the interim, they will have made plenty of money on failed multiples covering his rides.
Bookmakers reserve the right to refuse any bet they wish, although it arguably amounts to bad PR and a questionable business strategy. Yet this phenomenon appears to be specific to Dettori, who carries an aura of magnificence about him at big meetings. If you check out horse racing betting you will see that the Italian often rides highly rated horses, but he will also be aboard plenty of long shots too. Punters love him and he really captures the imagination when he rides a few winners. Bookmakers could face multibillion-pound liabilities if he rides six winners on a card, and they might not be able to pay out punters due to the high level of interest in him.
A Change in Strategy
They will maintain that they did the right thing by restricting multiples on Dettori’s rides, and they are now overhauling their strategies. He rode a treble at Sandown earlier this month, reminding the bookies of the threat he poses. Layers now fear the unique risk posed by small staking punters that might claim colossal pay-outs, and they are taking drastic action.
At the Coral-Eclipse day, Coral would not allow punters to take a price on Dettori’s final two races of the day, allowing it to hedge its position. ITV racing presenter Matt Chapman branded Coral “pathetic” for restricting multiples on Dettori’s rides “Basically what Coral are saying is ‘we do not want you to win’. What a pathetic attitude from a bookmaker, they really need to grow a pair.”
But Coral hit back, saying it was only being prudent. There are many big meetings left this summer, including Glorious Goodwood and Newmarket’s July Festival, and punters will be drawn to Dettori. They can expect restrictions from various bookmakers that fear being wiped out by more heroics from their bête noir.