'I was only here for a free offer' says winner of £1.5m Tote jackpot

One of the world's great betting carnivals takes place at Cheltenham next week, but nobody will come away a bigger winner than Steve Whiteley after a lowly meeting at Exeter yesterday.

Mr Whiteley, from North Tawton in Devon, won nearly £1.5m for a £2 stake as the sole winner of a Tote jackpot rollover. A pool bet, requiring the punter to find the winners of six races, the jackpot had not been won since 27 February and had snowballed to £2,035,538 – the third biggest rollover in its history. Over £1m had been staked on the day by punters up and down the country, but it turned out that the precious winning ticket was among the small crowd on the course itself.

Mr Whiteley, 61, had initially filled out a perm of two horses in most races. Upon discovering that his stake duly multiplied to £32, he ripped up the coupon and instead confined himself to a single line. After Tony McCoy won the first race on the favourite, over 360,000 Jackpot lines were still alive, but a 12-1 winner in the next reduced that number to 9,076. Two 16-1 shots followed, leaving just seven tickets still in the hat for the fifth race, where an odds-on favourite was beaten.

That left just Mr Whiteley's ticket, which he had boldly entrusted to a mare called Lupita, who had never won a jumps race in 28 attempts. Moreover her young rider, Jessica Lodge, had only ridden one winner. The game looked up at the last hurdle, but Lupita stayed on and just caught the leader – aptly named Only Hope – near the winning post. Mr Whiteley had scooped £1,445,671.20.

He freely acknowledged his ignorance of form. He had chosen Lupita's rider for no better reason than "Lodge is a name that hangs in my head". Along with a group of friends, he had taken up a promotional offer of a free day's racing and reached the track with a bus pass. "The first selections I did came to 32 quid so I scrapped that," he said. "I couldn't afford that. I'm not a horseracing man, I just go once or twice a year. I'm a heating engineer – well, I was!"

The Tote said the money will be in his bank account this morning. "I'll work till I die," Whiteley declared. But he broke into an incredulous laugh.

Lucky man: How he won

Race 1 Winner Semi Colon (2-1 favourite) – 363,285 bets still survive

Race 2 Black Phantom (12-1) 9,076 bets survive

Race 3 Ammunition (16-1) 571 survive

Race 4 Mr Bennett (16-1) seven survive

Leg 5 Lundy Sky (5-1) only one ticket left, going on to Lupita

Leg 6 Lupita 12-1

Ticket wins £1,445,671

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