Countdown to Cheltenham: Star Sports on why they ‘do not bet on an opinion’

The Countdown to Cheltenham is almost over, and with only a few hours until the prestigious Jumps event gets underway, jockeys are already saddling up for The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race.

We spoke with Ben Keith, Founder of Star Sports, and Head of PR Luke Tarr to discuss how they are getting ready for the event both on and off course, and how the bookmaker is mitigating the risk of a ‘wednesday wipe-out’.

SBC: How is Star Sports getting ‘festival ready’ across both its on-course pitches and its online division?

Ben Keith: Of course there is a lot of hospitality, review night, videos and on-course commitments.  But we have been doing it for a long time and I have a great operational management team who do all of this so well now. Queue: immediate cock-ups all over the place! 🙂

On a trading level though, we do not bet on an opinion, rather faces and the market. At Cheltenham, this is no different, and we are just keener, a few minutes before the off, to really take anything that is thrown at us. 

There are million pound liabilities, which is rather terrifying, but that’s all part of it, and I just try to close my eyes and hope for the best sometimes!  This though, is the time to publicly do battle with high-rollers, so it’s great for the image of the business. 

SBC: The Gold Cup hasn’t been defended since 2004, what are the chances of current joint favourite Al Boum Photo doing it for Willie Mullins this year? And are there any runners that SBC readers should be keeping an eye on?

Luke Tarr: In what looks a wide open Gold Cup I think it’s nice to be the bookie not punter for this one! Al boum photo is a worthy favourite and the one they all have to beat. Santini is the young pretender and has to be respected at 4/1. 

The one to watch though at a big price is Bristol de Mai. It never stops raining and at 28/1 (seven times santini price) he wasn’t beaten far last time and could turn that form sound on soft or heavy ground. He looks the one over priced to me, especially given he placed in the race last year. 

SBC: What role will request-a-bets and promotional offers play in engaging punters with this year’s festival?

Ben Keith: As little as possible. Competing on offers is a slippery slope. I always say that if Series aren’t busy at Christmas – they have a major problem. The same goes for a bookmaker at Cheltenham or Royal Ascot.

I would rather compete for a punter on a cold Tuesday in February. If I get him, he’s betting with me all year, and he just wants a good service.

SBC: And finally, three of the shortest-priced favourites of the week have been lined up to race on the Wednesday of Cheltenham Festival – is this a worry for Star Sports? and how does Star Sports plan to mitigate the risk of a ‘wednesday-wipeout’?

Ben Keith: We rather hope the first one wins and all the Bookies start hedging with us!  Some of our best clients over the years have been hedging accounts and it’s great fun when they light up.

I prefer to think about what I can win off a client or from a certain area of the business, in percentage terms, over a year. Of course, it’s annoying when we lose but if I’m happy with what I’ve laid – individual races make little difference to me.

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