Punter who backed 'doomed horse' wins £20,000

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The Independent Online

The 46-year-old man was undeterred by the fact that the horse, Noland, ridden by Ruby Walsh, was in 14th place with three jumps to go in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle yesterday. At the click of a mouse from his home in Pontypridd, south Wales, he placed a £20 bet on it winning a "split -second" after a fellow gambler decided its chances of being first-past-the-post were 999-1.

The so-called "in-running" bet is a speciality of the relatively new "exchange" betting firms, which work by providing a platform for pitting an individual - offering odds on a race - against the punter, and charging a commission of up to 5 per cent on that transaction. The person who decided the 999-1 odds is now liable for the £20,000 payout.

"Two different individuals had completely conflicting views of how the race would turn out. One punter thought it had no chance and put up odds of 999-1 against, and the other punter backed it and asked for a price," said Mark Davies, a spokesman for Betfair, the largest operator in the £1bn-plus "exchange" sector which accepted the Cheltenham bet.

Mr Davies said the lucky punter, who did not want to be identified, was a regular customer, albeit one spending small amounts. "I spoke to him and he was still struggling to understand how he got such great odds," said Mr Davies, explaining that the man was ready to stake a bet at odds of 7-1 on Noland, but had unwittingly chosen the "split-second" when the vastly better odds became available online.

The £20,000 is thought to be one of the biggest online "in-running" wins at such a high-profile event. Its football equivalent came in an FA Cup encounter between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in February 2004. Manchester City were trailing 3-0 at half-time and were down to 10 men. It attracted a flood of small but ultimately lucrative bets in favour of City, who finally won 4-3.

The Cheltenham Festival is expected to attract bets totalling £500m this year and provides an opportunity for online firms such as sportingodds.com, which signed up 10,000 new customers each day of the four-day event last year, with daily takings of £1m.

As newcomers to the £23bn gambling industry, betting exchanges have met with resistance from traditional bookmakers, who claim they have brought the industry's integrity into question. Allegations of widespread corruption reached a peak two years ago when the jump jockey Sean Fox apparently "dived" from his mount. He was later cleared on appeal.

At the height of the furore, which betting exchanges claimed was stoked by their high street rivals, the chief executive of Ladbrokes claimed that at least one race a day was being fixed.

Claims of foul play were levelled against betting exchanges because they allow customers to set the odds against a horse to lose. Aspects of last summer's Gambling Act, aimed at bringing greater transparency to online betting, will force exchanges to register punters' details such as home addresses and bank accounts. The measures will be introduced next September and will include a separate licensing regime for betting exchanges.