Frankie's seven wins cost me pounds 1m

Bookmaker Fred Done's biggest financial mistake
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The Independent Online
'Most bookmakers lost money when Frankie Dettori won all seven races at Ascot one day last month. But two decisions of mine made our own losses even worse.

Done Brothers runs 93 betting shops throughout the North-west, and we have the reputation of giving the biggest bonuses on multiple bets like Yankees and Canadians. At 7.30am on Saturday, September 28, my bet control manager and I were discussing bonuses for the day.

At first, we decided we were going to give a 50 per cent bonus on all Yankees in our early-morning price races, and 100 per cent on all Canadians.

I was just going out, and then I changed my mind. I said: "Don't do it on the early-price races, do it on all the races at Ascot. And double the bonuses, because I think we'll have a big day today. We'll give a 100 per cent bonus on Yankees and a 200 per cent bonus on Canadians." That week, I'd already made another decision. We were due to open a new shop on the coming Monday, but I rushed it forward to Saturday.

That afternoon, I was home watching racing on television. The bet control manager rang me up before the third race to say we'd taken several big bets on Dettori's horse Mark of Esteem - and they added up to pounds 10,000.

He said: "Dettori's already won the first two races and, if he wins this, it'll be no good for us." So I knew we'd got some problems, but nothing very serious.

Then the bet control manager rang again just before the fourth race, and said the phones were ringing off the hook. We had pounds 6,000 riding on Dettori in that one, and it was a 12-1 chance. Then I knew we'd got problems. The bet control manager called me back into the office, something he hasn't had to do for 20 years. Then, of course, Dettori's fifth horse won. We were up to our armpits in it by then.

Frankie won the sixth race, and we just sat there. There was nothing we could do. We'd shortened the odds as much as we could. We couldn't even lay off the money with other bookmakers, because we'd laid 10-1 on some of these horses in the morning, and now they were going off at 2- 1, just because of the sheer weight of money. We would have had to put pounds 200,000 or pounds 300,000 to get our money back.

Word was getting round the shops that Dettori had won the first six. The shops were doing triple business, and the punters were still betting on Frankie. The atmosphere in the shops was just electric and of course Frankie gave us no chance. He won the seventh as well.

By 6 o'clock, we knew we were in for pounds 500,000. By 6.30, it had crept up to pounds 750,000. The problem was you just didn't know what the final liability was going to be - it could have been pounds 2m or pounds 3m. It was frightening. At 7.30, we finally found that we'd just topped the pounds 1m. The biggest payout we did was to a guy who'd invested pounds 12 with us, and walked away with pounds 200,000. Another one bet 50p and won pounds 57,000.

On the Monday morning, I came in to work and wrote a full chequebook out. The smallest cheque was for pounds l5,000, and they went up to pounds 25,000.

By 5 o'clock on the Monday night, everyone had been paid out, and we'd blown pounds 1m. The bonuses alone cost us pounds 500,000. Just to rub things in, the shop I'd rushed to get open on Saturday morning had lost pounds 50,000 - another brilliant piece of timing on my part.

Nobody's going to give a bookmaker any sympathy - I know that, but we got it in the neck. It was like being a minus lottery winner. The small punters loved it, and they rubbed it in a bit.

But you can't blame them for that - it's all part of the game. You stick your neck out in business and, sometimes, you get it chopped off.

The Sporting Life has done a video of Dettori riding those seven winners, and I've just sent off for 20 copies to give to the punters who had a lucky day. I can't watch it myself - it's a horror movie to me."

Fred Done of Done Brothers (Manchester) was talking to Paul Slade.

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