20th Century Paddy!
Back in 1993, when St Patrick’s Day fell during the Cheltenham Festival, we offered to double the odds on any Irish winner that day at the Festival, a very bold move considering that at the time we didn’t have the UK penetration we have now so our books would by hugely weighted towards the Irish horses.
We got away with it during the early races, as we often do. Everything turned pear-shaped though in the last race of the day, the Bumper, where there were three Irish runners of note, the favourite, second favourite and a 16/1 shot.
A horse named “Heist”, trained by Noel Meade and ridden by Charlie Swan was the 9/4 favourite for the race, Paddy Power punters were getting on at 9/2! There were literally queues outside all of our shops of people getting stuck into the Irish banker. “Heist” looked like living up to his name and seemed an absolute certainty running up the famous Cheltenham hill 10-lengths clear.
Then, as if the Patron Saint of Bookies was looking down, the 16/1 outsider come from the clouds and began closing in on the favourite with every stride. The finishing line couldn’t come fast enough for Heist and he was eventually beaten by the shortest of short heads in a lengthy photo finish. We dodged a serious bullet that day and thankfully Paddy’s day lived up to its name (for us anyway)
Undoubtedly one of our most nerve wrecking offers was when we paid out on Istabraq as a winner the day before he won the 1999 Champion Hurdle. Admittedly Istabraq was an odds on favourite and looked unbeatable, but when they announced that he had a nose bleed the night before the race there were a few of our traders wearing bicycle clips on their trousers until he was declared a runner. He romped home.
Finally we come to the one where Paddy Power were well and truly caught with their pants down. We all know the Simpsons, and we all remember the “who shot Mr. Burns?” saga. If you don’t, it was something like the “who shot JR” equivalent in Dallas. Mr. Burns was obviously shot in one of the episodes of the cartoon, and we, in our wisdom, decided to bet on who shot him.
Obviously there was no chance it was baby Maggie as she can’t even talk let alone shoot someone, so we put her in the betting at 500/1. In hindsight it may have been a little bit naïve considering firstly that it was a cartoon, and secondly that it was a cartoon. Add this to the fact that the episode had previously been shown in the US. We were cruising for a bruising. A few of the students in Maynooth (a university town in Ireland where we have a shop) heard from a friend in America that it was in fact Maggie who did the deed. They took us to the cleaners!
Thankfully they were students without much money to spend! We took numerous small bets on the baby at 500/1, and needless to say there was some party in the student bar in Maynooth in Dublin when Maggie pulled the trigger, paid for by the 20 odd grand they had won off us. Again, this was front page news under the headline “Paddy Power caught with nappy down”. Great publicity, although we did have a few weeks of fielding phone calls from punters looking for odds on a variety of events that were already over!