Ben Keith is a bookie who lost £2m at Cheltenham last year… but didn’t watch the race

It sounds impressive, but the bookmaker with the biggest bets at next week’s Cheltenham Festival hasn’t watched a single race all season.

Ben Keith, the owner of Star Sports, says when he takes to his pitch in the crazy festival betting ring on Tuesday, he will need his clerk to point out which horse is which as they charge for the home turn.

He thinks he doesn’t need to know how far favorite 4-11 Champion Hurdle Constitution Hill won his last race, or what form coach Nicky Henderson is in. running billionaires.

“I go for numbers and faces, not races,” says Keith, 43. “Five minutes before the start in Cheltenham, if you want to prove to me that you know better than the market, I’ll let anyone in the world try to find out. I’m playing a man.

“I’ll bet what you want to bet.” Expressing an opinion is not my role. I’m running my race. Three minutes before kickoff, if you want to back the favorite or the second favorite, rock it, baby.

Ben Keith employs 300 people and intends to open his 24th betting shop in Mayfair

Ben Keith employs 300 people and intends to open his 24th betting shop in Mayfair

When the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene won the Queen Mother Chase last season, Keith bet £150,000 on 100-30, costing his company £500,000. But Keith is not interested in individual results.

Energumene, owned by Tony Bloom, an established gambler who owns Brighton & Hove Albion football club, was beaten at Ascot when Keith placed another £360,000 bet on an anonymous customer.

One big-stakes player bet £725,000 on a gelding when he could only finish third at the Cheltenham Trials in January. Keith didn’t watch the race but got a text with the result.

The next chapter of this intriguing show accompanying Energumene’s efforts to retain the title will take place on Wednesday.

Keith is unfazed. He says his advantage comes from studying his human opponents, learning their habits, strengths and weaknesses. It draws a parallel with how the late Shane Warne, his athletic hero, watched Ashes rivals to elevate his game.

Keith, who employs 300 people and is about to open his 24th betting shop in Mayfair, says: “Shane has figured out how to bowl the batsmen, how to position them to get them out, and how best to force them. get away.

“Every player is different and I do Shane Warne on them. The moment they are predictable, and I can predict them, I beat them.

“I have won tens of millions of pounds from some players. But you wish you were as big of an asshole as they are because they made billions doing something else. Because they are used to getting what they want in business, they think they can get what they want in gambling.

“They used to tell bookmakers I wanted £50,000 and they said they might have £5,000 in the account. I’m going, it’s a bet, do you want it again?

“It takes a rich man more time to beat him, but when the fruit machine goes, it gets big.”

He fell in love with betting when his father took him to Hove greyhound stadium at the age of 12

He fell in love with betting when his father took him to Hove greyhound stadium at the age of 12

Sparring with big hitters evokes another sporting analogy as Keith recalls a tactic used by Muhammad Ali to trick George Foreman into punching himself before launching a devastating counterattack at Zaire’s famous Rumble in the Jungle in 1974.

“When you’re up against huge gamblers, it’s a real treat. I let them beat me, beat me, beat me thinking they’re winning, but catching mackerel is sprat. As a bookmaker, when you’re up against the big punchers, you have to stay with them and wait for the day the atomic bomb goes off.

Keith is a million miles from the bookie stereotype. He quotes Socrates and refers to Ikigai, a Japanese ideology related to the longevity of the nation.

He fell in love with betting when his father, a lawyer, took him at the age of 12 to Hove Greyhound Stadium. He has been captivated by the betting ring ever since. He says the only jockey he feared was Sir Anthony McCoy, patron of all gamblers and savior of lost causes.

Significantly, he laments the continued erosion of competition at the Cheltenham Festival, with fewer stables likely to threaten the dominance of trainers such as Mullins and Gordon Elliott.

Keith says: “Cheltenham are very hard to win right now. I do not like it. I’d rather be at Royal Ascot. It is much more competitive.

For a long time, bookmakers in Cheltenham ruled their own way, but in the last five or six years that has changed.

Keith bemoans the continued erosion of competition at the Cheltenham Festival

Keith bemoans the continued erosion of competition at the Cheltenham Festival

“I need it to go wrong and a few of the shorts to be beaten and the steering to turn badly on Cheltenham hill! It’s a presentation. This is not the place to be a bookie now.

Last year I lost £2.2m at Cheltenham. The Racing Post had a good laugh and said that Ben Keith left early after the Gold Cup! But I only lent them £2.2 million. My game is the end of the year. If I won five or six percent, I did it.

– Players are good at singing when they win. I love the silence in the betting ring when a 40-1 shot wins. It is beautiful.’

For Keith, Cheltenham will be heaven next week if the festival’s famous roar turns into a whimper.

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