Sport

Bookies hammered on Day 1 of Cheltenham

Annie Power fall saved bookies plenty of cash
Annie Power fall saved bookies plenty of cash

Bookmakers were counting their blessings after having losses cut considerably by the untimely exit of Annie Power on an eventful opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Her fall at the final flight, when having the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at her mercy, saved the layers from a hit of over £50m and their worst day ever.

The bookies were fearing the worst after three of the first four races went the way of the followers of trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh.

First it was Douvan (2-1) winning the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, followed by Un De Sceaux (4-6) in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy and then Faugheen (4-5) in the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

All that was left was for Annie Power to do the business in the Mares' Hurdle to complete a mountain of winning accumulators.

The 1-2 shot cruised into the lead, but just when the layers' nightmare scenario looked certain to become a reality, the mare bombed out at the last. Thankfully she emerged none the worse, as did Walsh.

Even then, the bookmakers did not escape unscathed as Mullins still won the race with second favourite Glens Melody (6-1).

David Williams of Ladbrokes said: "We've never known a day like it. If Annie Power had cleared the last our fate would have been sealed.

"Somehow we've dodged the most expensive bullet in betting history and rather than being the worst day we've known, it's just been a pretty bad day at the office. Nothing more and nothing less.

"The God of bookmaking certainly moves in mysterious ways.

"We flagged up the most popular acca in history long before the first winner went in and punters were shovelling on their cash all day long. It would have been worse than 'Dettori Day' in 1996 if Annie Power hadn't come unstuck at the final hurdle."

Betfred spokesman Andrew Griffiths admitted his firm's relief after punters' multiple bets were scuppered.

He said: "The doomsday scenario almost came true and we're breathing a huge sigh of relief.

"Annie Power was the final piece of the jigsaw for punters and we were staring down the barrel of a multi-million pound payout.

"It's still been a bad day at the office thanks to Douvan and co, but we'll happily take that."

William Hill had predicted it could have been 'Armageddon Tuesday' if all of the fancied four Irish runners prevailed, but they were saved at literally the final hurdle.

Their spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said: "This could have been the golden day for punters, who were already counting their winnings at the last.

"Bookmakers have well and truly dodged a bullet."

Irish firm Paddy Power have tried to ease some of the pain of punters who backed the Mullins-trained 'good things' by refunding those who did the 'four-fold' up to £200.

"Even though we suffered the agony of the first three winning, all highly costly results in their own right, and gave money back as a free bet on all losers behind Douvan and Un De Sceaux, we just couldn't let punters who bravely backed the quartet go home unrewarded," said Paddy Power.

"We all thought Annie was home and hosed at the last and even we were cheering a piece of racing history before unlucky Annie made the costliest mistake for backers ever."