Bookies Dodge The £50m Bullet

At least one firm quoted the loss, had Annie Power won, at £100m!

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The 50 million pound fall…(Pic-Getty Images)

A £50m bullet was dodged by the betting industry, according to its own estimates, when Annie Power fell at the last flight on day one of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.

The moment provided a cruel end to the hopes of so many punters who had backed four hot favourites, all of them trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, an enormously popular and successful pairing.

Weeks ago, it became clear that the pair could have a spectacular opening day and a huge number of gamblers, especially those from Ireland, are thought to have travelled here determined to back them in singles, doubles, trebles and accumulators. The card could not have started better for them as Douvan and Un De Sceaux won the first two races by daylight.

When Faugheen followed up in the Champion Hurdle to a thunderous response from the stands, it seemed a poor time to be a bookmaker. Annie Power would surely have compounded their misery had she jumped the last with some degree of responsibility, rather than taking off a full stride too early.

“We consider it to be the £50m fall,” said Ladbrokes’ David Williams, who compared the potential disaster to the day when a promising young Flat jockey rode all seven winners at Ascot. “We’d have been facing up to the worst day since ‘Dettori Day’.

“As it is, we’ve dodged the most expensive bullet we’ve ever faced and the god of bookmaking moves in mysterious ways. For it to happen like that … the heart won’t stand for much more.”

At least one other firm quoted the loss, had Annie Power won, at £100m, which seems outlandish, though there is no way to verify such estimates.

The picture appeared cheerier from the packed betting ring, where John Hughes, standing in the number one pitch, said after Annie Power’s tumble: “We can’t cry. It’s been one of the busiest Cheltenhams, the punters are playing up their money. We’re playing a draw at the minute.”

Something of a fox among hounds, Andy Smith of Festival Racing bookmakers said this would have been “the best day I’ve ever had at the races”, had Annie Power won. “I love the best horses winning races. I own a few horses and to see the best horses win is fantastic. All the bookies were crying, the punters were cheering, I was leading the cheer ‘Ruby, Ruby, Ruby’. I loved it.

“I’m an opinionated bookie. I backed the first one [Douvan] at 16-1 back in October or November. Then I bet without Un De Sceaux, so I was OK there. I thought Faugheen would win the big race, so I’ve been boxing away, getting a few quid. It’s been good. We just want every horse and jockey to come back in one piece.

“That’s why I bet without Un De Sceaux because I thought the only way he can get beat is [a] fall. And I don’t want to stand on that box and hope that horse falls.”

Smith said that there were nevertheless hot favourites at this Festival that he planned to oppose, notably Peace And Co in Friday’s Triumph Hurdle.

www.theguardian.com

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