Get out your tissues and prepare for tears. Racing legend AP McCoy is poised for a fairy tale ending to his career at the Grand National tomorrow, but if he wins it could cost bookmakers up to £50m.
‘It would be the biggest whipping we’ve ever known,’ said Ladbrokes' spokesman David Williams. Ladbrokes and William Hill estimate £150m will be bet on the race at Aintree, a third of which will be on McCoy’s horse Shutthefrontdoor. A victory for McCoy would therefore create a ‘£50m black hole’ for the industry.
Bookmakers losing money on a retiring jockey’s last hurrah won’t exactly elicit a nationwide outpouring of sympathy, but they are in an unusually tough predicament. The Grand National attracts infrequent gamblers, who can be swayed by such things as a name or a story rather than form or return. Shortening the odds (Shutthefrontdoor is currently the 7-1 favourite) doesn’t tend to deter them.
On the other hand, perhaps bookmakers are keen to appear worried, as though somehow they’ve given the whole nation a hot tip. These things work both ways – if betting shops can lose a lot on Shutthefrontdoor winning, they can also gain a lot on it losing.
Apparently, the statistics suggest that’s quite likely. According to Channel 4 Racing, the horse’s youth and lack of recent steeplechase races count against it, as does the inherent unpredictability of the event.
Gambling is a risky business by its very nature and despite their best efforts bookmakers are subject to the vagaries of fate like everyone else. But whether McCoy takes home an oversized winning cheque or not, the long-term position for Ladbrokes and the like is the same – in the end, the house always wins.