When sixty year old heating engineer, Steve Whiteley, went to Exeter racecourse in March 2011, he used his bus pass to get there and entered the grounds on a free promotion. He was looking forward to his day at the races and didn’t expect to come away with much, he knew his chances were slim; after all he wasn’t a betting man. But what he didn’t know was that the events of the next few hours would change his life forever.
Initially Steve, who said at the time that he was “not a horse racing man”, had selected two horses in each race but that was going to cost him £32 so he decided to scrap it. Instead Steve tried his luck with the Tote’s six-race rollover jackpot bet which cost just £2 but required him to pick all of the winners in the six race meet. Picking the first past the post in six races would have proved a Herculean task for even the most knowledgeable tipster, but Steve was having fun and so far the day had only cost him a couple of quid.
The rules of the Tote’s six-race rollover jackpot bet means that as each race takes place, those who did not pick the winner are eliminated and the field of gamblers rapidly thins. If no one picks all six winners, the winning pot rolls over to the following event.
Steve was pleased when Semi Colon won the first race at 2-1, at least he could tell his wife that one of his horses had come in first, but with 363,000 tickets picking the winner in the first leg he wasn’t alone. When Black Phantom won the next race at 12-1 Steve began to watch with real interest, he was now one of 9,076 tickets remaining. Steve’s excitement continued to mount when his next choice, Ammunition, came in at 16-1 making him one of only 571 punters to go through. But when Mr Bennett came in first in the fourth with odds of 16-1, leaving Steve as one of only seven potential winners, he began to doubt the evidence of his own eyes.
Steve went to the Tote to check that he’d been reading his ticket correctly and when he was told that he had the entire Tote applauded him, going on to cheer Steve on in the final two races. Jayne Amor, the racing manager of Exeter's Tote, said at the time: “The excitement at the racecourse was unbelievable. When we realised it was one ticket it was so exciting.”
At the end of the fourth race Steve’s was the only ticket remaining and he could hardly believe his eyes and ears when Lundy Sky, his fifth selection, came in at 5-1… It was all hanging on the final race.
Steve’s final selection was a horse who had not won in its last 26 races and who was being ridden by a female jockey, Jessica Lodge, who had never managed a winning ride. It looked like a very long shot indeed and the odds again reflected this at 12-1.
Steve could hardly watch as the race began, after all he’d selected his horses at random saying afterwards that: “It's difficult to say how I came up with them.” His final horse was called Lupita, but Steve had picked the horse not for its form but because of the name of its rider: “Why did I pick the last one? Lodge is just a name that sticks in my head. I'm not a horse racing man; I only go once or twice a year.”
Of course Lupita and Jessica Lodge romped home to win sending the crowd wild and netting Steve a very cool £1,445,671.71, the largest ever winning dividend in the history of the Tote Jackpot.
Immediately after the race, as he was having his photograph taken with Lupita, Steve told reporters that: “The most exciting bit was after the fourth race when my mate said only seven people in the whole country were still in it.” Asked how he felt when he knew it was all down to the final race and Lupita, Steve replied: “I couldn't watch the last race. I'm shaking like a leaf, I can't believe it.”
Asked what he would do with his winnings, Steve said: “We're going on holiday a week on Friday. We were going to fly cattle class but we might upgrade now.”
Steve certainly had a day at the races to remember and I doubt he’ll ever travel ‘cattle class’ again.