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The heating engineer who hit the £1.5m jackpot for a £2 bet 08/03/2011
Chris Cook at Exeter
• Steve Whiteley was on a free day at the races
• Horse that sealed bet was breaking duck on 29th run

Steve Whiteley travelled by bus to the races here on Tuesday, used a free ticket to get in, placed a £2 bet and went home a millionaire. The 61-year-old heating engineer achieved what no other punter in the country could manage, picking all six winners here to land the Jackpot, a Tote bet which had been rolling over for more than a week.

"I'm shaking like a leaf," he said, having been dragged into the winner's enclosure to pose beside Lupita, the chestnut mare whose improbable victory in the last race has changed his life. She had been beaten in all 28 previous starts over hurdles.

The crowd was boosted by many hardened gamblers trying to win the bet, for which the pool had swollen to £2m by the time of the first race. Most of those men would be reduced to tears by the almost entirely random method of selection described by Whiteley as he was presented with a bottle of champagne.

"I like racing, yeah, but I don't know nothing about it, do I? I come with my mates," he said. His presence here was entirely due to a promotion by the racecourse which gave free tickets to him and six friends.

One of those friends suggested Whiteley have a crack at the Jackpot but his attempt almost fell at the first fence when he wrote out a ticket with two selections in each race and was told it would cost £32. "I couldn't afford that," he said, "so I picked one in each race."

In the intense world of serious punters, this kind of cavalier approach makes you a mug. All around Britain yesterday, form students spent hours putting together perms that combined dozens of runners and cost hundreds of pounds. That he should succeed where they failed will be the cause of lasting chagrin.

Pressed as to what had made him pick Lupita, he replied: "Lodge is just a name that sticks in my head". It was a reference to the jockey, Jessica Lodge, who was having just her 20th ride in public and her first success. "Well, I didn't know that," Whiteley admitted.

It would be fair to say that Whiteley rode his luck in the fourth race, when two serious contenders fell and a third unseated at the final fence when challenging the eventual winner, Mr Bennett. This, he said, was "the most exciting bit. My mate said to me, there's only seven people in the whole country who are still in, and you're one of them.

"And then, after the next race, he said there's only one! I couldn't believe it."

When it was revealed that the sole remaining Jackpot ticket was relying on Lupita, many punters will have assumed the bet would roll over once more, generating an expected pool of £4m at Catterick today. Even at quite late stages in the race, success seemed beyond her and it was only in the final furlong that she plugged gamely past Only Hope.

After deductions by the bookmaker, Whiteley won £1,445,671.20, almost three times as much as the previous biggest dividend paid out in the 45-year history of the Jackpot. He may use some of it to upgrade his seat on the flight he had already booked to Australia for a holiday next week, but he will not retire. "I'll work til I die," he said.

There will surely have been celebrations last night in his home of North Tawton, a small town north of Dartmoor, but the shocked Whiteley seemed unable to make any plans as he left the course, still talking of the importance of attending "our penny-share meeting tonight".

His friends were more agile in adjusting to his new status as a rich man. "He did my bathroom for me," said one, "and, if he thinks I'm paying now, he's mad."