Sky Bet’s Sebastian Butterworth – The National is ‘a really high pressured day’

skybet-sebastianbutterworthSebastian Butterworth, Head of Horse Racing Trading at Sky Bet, talks about the bookmaker’s preparations for one of the biggest betting days of the year.

What goes on in the Sky Bet Head Office on the day of the Grand National?

On the morning of the National the traders will get in at about 7am. The prices for Aintree will have been managed overnight by the night team and then the racing traders take over. Up until the National it will be fairly busy and people will be walking past and asking me how it’s going. When it reaches 4.15, we’ll have it on the big screen and everyone will crowd around. The directors will hovering around the racing desk, asking me lots of questions.

When the race ends it’ll be a case of finding out how much money we’ve won or lost. We won’t know straight away because of placed horses and multiples, but we have the best technology to get bets settled as quickly as possible.

Last year someone gave me a microphone and I thanked everyone for their hard work. So many people get involved who don’t usually work weekends to help out with the upsurge. It’s a really high pressured day.

What goes into managing the betting market of the race?

Aintree is not difficult to trade because it’s a very competitive market. The form is very strong so you’re happy to lay bets because there’s nothing hidden from you. You know the horses well. If a horse is 3/1 you know it’s not going to go off at even money because today’s the day everything has come right for it. Every horse will be there running on its merits, so the prices are strong.

The traders will come and they have to manage the risk. That is basically managing the customers. We’d expect to have a lot of new customers for the National. It’s a unique day in that you have a lot of customers that ordinarily wouldn’t bet on horse racing. They might be sport or football or casino customers. If they’re a new customer and they’re betting a sizable amount it will be the trader’s job to have a look at them and see what sort of bets they’re having.

We’ll be fairly busy at all the away meetings, although the turnover will be far less you do have to be careful with your markets because occasionally there will be a well-handicapped horse that has been really well backed.

Because your focus is on the National and you take your eye off the ball at Lingfield for example you could lose a bit of money there.

The National is by far the greatest staked race in the year, beating the Cheltenham Gold Cup and any of the flat races at Royal Ascot, because you do get customers who don’t bet on horse racing having a go. On a normal National we would take a really good spread of money. Over the last five years we’ve not had more than 12% of stakes on one horse. This year because of it being AP McCoy’s last Grand National and him riding the 8/1 favourite, it’s very likely to be the horse that everyone wants to back.

Everyone thinks, ‘well AP’s going to win because it’s his last National’. He’s the horse that we need to get beaten and because of that we’ll have much greater liabilities. What’s really important is that McCoy does not have a winner or two or three in the races before the National because of multiple business.

How do you get prepared to make National day run smoothly?

The National is a very busy time with a lot of bets per second. Pre-National we have to do a lot of load testing and making sure that we are ready for the deluge of customers that are going to join us. A lot of the work done in the weeks and months before the National is making sure that we have enough space for the customers.

It’s a case of making the customer experience very good. It’s a really important time for the technology teams and for us to get our predictions right in terms of turnover.

It is the one meeting of the year that does encourage the greatest number of unique customers. It’s our busiest race – Australia has the race that stops the nation in the Melbourne Cup, this is our race that stops the nation. Everyone gets involved and it’s a great day for racing.

What are your customers betting on?

Two years ago when Katie Walsh was on Seabass, that was our worst result. People wanted to have a female jockey win the National. I would expect that those types of customers will be backing Shutthefrontdoor because it’s McCoy’s last Grand National. People bet on what they want to happen and not necessarily what they think will happen.

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