One would not have imagined Exeter’s concluding Upton Lakes And Lodges Amateur Riders’ Handicap Hurdle would have caused so much excitement.
The 12-1 chance Lupita, ridden by the unknown Jessica Lodge, was driven out for a narrow victory and in doing so, created a millionaire when a single on-course punter landed a rollover Tote Jackpot.
Steve Whiteley, 61, a heating engineer from North Tawton in Devon, will scoop approximately £1.4m (€1.63m) after picking the winner of all six races. His £1 was the only remaining by the start of the last event.
“It’s difficult to say how I came up with them. The first few selections I had two in each race and that was going to cost £32 so I scrapped that,” said Whiteley.
“Why did I pick the last one? Lodge is just a name that sticks in my head. I didn’t know anything about her. I’m not a horse racing man, I only go once or twice a year.
“I’m shaking like a leaf, I can’t believe it.”
Successes for outsiders ensured the remaining players had been knocked out and the feature Devon Marathon went to Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 16-1 shot Ammunition.
Carl Llewellyn, assistant trainer, said: “He fell at Towcester last time (in mid-November), but I think he was finding the ground a bit soft.
“We gave him a nice break until the spring as he just needs quick ground at places like Exeter or Towcester and this looked the ideal race. We waited for the race and it’s nice it worked out.”
Several of the other winners had to ride their luck, with Black Phantom (12-1) finishing 20 lengths clear in the Weatherbys Bloodstock Insurance Handicap Hurdle after his nearest pursuer Switched Off departed at the second-last flight.
“He was suffering from a slight lung infection after his last run, but we knew if he could come back to his best form he’d have a chance,” said trainer Andy Turnell.
“I suppose he could have another run over hurdles but he wants a fence really and that’s what he’ll be doing next season.”
An even more eventful Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide 2011 Novices’ Chase ended up landing on the plate of David Pipe’s Mr Bennett (16-1) after both Cobbler’s Queen and Rhum wrecked their chances with mistakes.
Pipe said: “He’s a nice individual but has had his fair share of problems and not a lot of luck.”
Nicky Henderson and Tony McCoy combined with the Semi Colon (2-1 favourite), a six-length winner of the European Breeders’ Fund Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle, while similarly convincing was Lundy Sky (5-1) in the Weatherbys Bank Novices’ Hurdle.