Of all the threats – real and perceived – to their profitability in 2021, few bookmakers would have predicted that the main danger to their balance sheet would have been an affable Irishwoman.
But the stratospheric rise of Rachael Blackmore has already cost the bookies millions this year – and worse could be yet to follow.
Her success at the Cheltenham Festival was so pronounced that the oddsmakers ended up restricting punters who wanted to bet on Blackmore multiples on Gold Cup day – that is a scenario as rare as hen’s teeth in the bookmaking game.
The 31-year-old will take to the saddle of Minella Times in the Grand National on Saturday, and reports have suggested that the bookies are quaking in their boots once more – a liability of £15 million and counting is what awaits them should Blackmore take the line at Aintree in first place.
Only Frankie Dettori and AP McCoy at the peak of their powers have had the books running for cover with such trepidation….
A Sigh of Relief
When the bookmakers are reluctant to take bets on you for fear of losing money, you know you’re doing something right.
That was the situation at the Cheltenham Festival in March, as Blackmore rattled up five winners across the opening three days of the meeting – aboard some handy favourites too.
The 11/10 Honeysuckle romped home in the Champion Hurdle, while Bob Olinger obliged in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 6/4.
Sir Gerhard was another Blackmore winner priced at lower than 2/1 in the Champion Bumper, while Allaho was backed in from 6/1 to threes on race day ahead of his Ryanair Chase triumph.
You can see why the bookies were so keen not to have their fingers burned on the Friday then, and with reports of maximum liabilities of £25,000 on Blackmore-based accas – both SkyBet and bet365 reportedly installed such limits, there were many nails chewed as she took the Gold Cup day opener aboard Quilixios.
Hopes of matching Ruby Walsh’s seven winners at a single edition of the Cheltenham Festival faded thereafter, but Blackmore had done enough to claim the champion jockey title – the first woman in history to do so.
In a year of ceiling smashing, the Irish rider has the Grand National next in her sights….
On the Grandest Stage of All
To give you an idea of ‘Blackmore fever’, her mount for the Grand National – Minella Times – has been backed in from 40/1 to 14/1 since her Cheltenham exploits.
No female jockey has ever won the National – Kate Walsh was third with Seabass back in 2012 – but an in-form rider, on an excellent horse, could be the first over the line.
Blackmore has partnered Minella Times, the Henry de Bromhead trained eight-year-old, in each of his last three starts, with a victory at Listowel followed by a solid runners-up turn at Leopardstown in December.
An excellent jumper, Minella Times could be the horse that Blackmore needs to complete another moment of racing history.
“No female jockey has ever won the Grand National before, but in a season where Blackmore is being described by many pundits as the best in her sport right now, it would be no surprise if she made history at Aintree,” said John Hill of Coral.
The bookmakers won’t have significant liabilities during the race – the Grand National jolly, Cloth Cap, does not have the same kind of ‘casual punter pull’ as a Tiger Roll – and so their worst outcome would be a Minella Times victory.
Indeed, Paddy Power alone are facing a liability of £15 million – and counting – of Blackmore can bring it on home. “To put it into some kind of perspective our traders haven’t experienced a headache like this since 2013, when Katie Walsh was backed into favouritism on Seabass,” said the Irish firm’s spokesman Paul Binfield.
“There are echoes of that with Rachael’s Cheltenham heroics having huge popular mass market appeal, especially amongst our Irish customers who adore backing one of their own.”
Given the nature of the race and casual punters plucking their bets seemingly out of the air, the bookies are rarely onto a loser with the Grand National.
But if ITV give it the big build-up for Blackmore on Saturday, and more money flows into the market as a result, traders could be facing a major headache in attempting to balance the books.