Professional Gamblers: Freddie Williams vs. J.P. McManus

The late 'Fearless' Freddie Williams, who died in June, 2008, at the age of 65, after suffering a major heart attack at his home in Skares, near Cumnock, Ayrshire, was once described as the 'immovable object' versus the 'irresistible force' of legendary punter John Partick 'J.P.' McManus. Indeed, at the time of his death, McManus said of his 'nemesis', 'We had some jousts over the years at the Cheltenham Festival. Racing has lost a colourful and loving character. The betting ring will be a much quieter place without him.' 

Although from humble beginnings, Williams became a millionaire when he sold his shares in his local soft drinks factory, Curries of Auchinleck, in 1991. However, fundamental changes to the allocation of bookmakers' pitches, introduced in October, 1998, allowed him to fulfil a lifelong ambition of obtaining a pitch at Cheltenham, although he did have to pay £90,000 at auction for the privilege. 

Having bought into the 'big time' as a bookmaker, Williams first met J.P. McManus on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham in January, 1999. After a brief introduction, McManus promptly asked for £90,000 to £40,000 about favourite Buckside in the opening novices' handicap hurdle. Buckside led most of the way, giving Williams just cause to question his judgement, but was headed on the run-in, eventually going down by 2½ lengths. Later that same afternoon, Williams laid McManus £150,000 to £50,000 about Commanche Court in the Cleeve Hurdle and £175,000 to £50,000 about Even Flow in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase; both horses lost, leaving Williams £140,000 ahead on the day. 

The following March, Williams laid McManus £700,000 to £100,000 each-way about his own horse, Shannon Gale, in the Stakis Casinos Final. The seven-year-old gelding held every chance at the final flight, but could only stay on at one pace in the closing stages to finish fourth, beaten 7¼ lengths; McManus nevertheless collected £175,000 for the place portion of his bet. 

Shannon Gale marked the start of prolonged series of skirmishes between Williams and McManus at the Cheltenham Festival, which would, at various times, leave both men bloodied, but unbowed. Williams once said of the McManus, who, nowadays, has a net worth of $2.2 million, 'I have a feeling John wants to be the first punter ever to have a million pounds on a horse at the festival. I love the guy to bits, don't get me wrong, but he's given me a lot of sore heads.' 

Thursday, March 16, 2006 – so-called 'St. Patrick's Thursday' at the Cheltenham Festival – proved a case in point for the bold, old-fashioned layer. In the opening Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase, Williams laid McManus £600,000 to £100,000 about Reveillez, who ran out a ready, 1¼-length winner under Sir Anthony McCoy. The closing Pertemps Network Final featured four McManus-owned runners, including the well-fancied, but ultimately ill-fated, Olaso, who was fatally injured during the race. McManus, though, backed the outsider of his quartet, Kadoun, to the tune of £250,000 to £5,000 each-way with Williams; the 50/1 chance stayed on well to win by 1½ lengths, netting his owner a further £325,000 at Williams' expense.

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