Legend of the fall: Bookies avoid wipeout at Cheltenham

“A bad day at the office,” said one bookie after the first day of the Cheltenham Festival ended with five of the seven races claimed by Irish trainers.

He’s lucky he still has an office.

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh had already partnered up to claim three of the first four races with victories for Douvan, Un De Sceaux, and Faugheen when they seemed set for another with Annie Power, well, powering down the home straight in the fifth.

At that point, the poor old turf accountants – God love ‘em – were in line to suffer their greatest wipeout in festival history.

A loss of £50m, one said, but then Annie Power and Walsh came tumbling down when clear for home and four-fifths of that was saved.

A loss of £10m is no laughing matter, of course, but the bookmakers will know that they escaped annihilation as hundreds of thousands of doubles, trebles, accumulators and Yankees went awry thanks to that one, unlikely fall by the day’s hottest favourite.

Never mind, lads, there’s another three days to win it all back. Which, as we all know, they will.

Days like yesterday simply don’t come about all that often here in the Cotswolds. Not even for the likes of Mullins and Walsh for whom success at this Gloucestershire venue has become something of a given in recent years.

Mullins earned down and around £450,000 for his successes yesterday, but more pleasing will be the likes of a 1, 2, 3 placing in the day’s feature race, the Stan James Champion Hurdle, in which Faugheen led Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly past the post.

All fashioned from one yard in Carlow.

Gordon Elliott’s Cause of Causes claimed the other Irish success in the fifth race, but it was Mullins who was the toast of the visiting hordes given his travelling arsenal did almost all that could have been asked or expected of them.

And it was an expectation that was noticed.

“I felt huge pressure when the ante-post prices came out five or six weeks ago and they told we had five of the first seven favourites or something,” Mullins said at one point. “That was a bit of a slap in the face, to be thinking ‘wow, how are we going to manage this?’”

There must be times when the event organisers think the same.

It pays to be wary of bookies in this game and the same could be said of PR and marketing types who inflate the most minor of sporting events with a level of importance far beyond their true station.

Cheltenham kicks off every year with no shortage of its own fanfare but it continues to live up to the hype with days like this and an infrastructure that has been ripped up and rebuilt both bigger and better to accommodate the swell in its popularity.

A new grandstand costing £45m was partially opened this week and the rest of the concourse has undergone a facelift that is dragging the event into the 21st century with swish shopping areas and general upgradings.

The numbers involved continue to impress:

  •  £3.9m will be won in prize money by the week’s end.
  •  Over 230,000 pints of Guinness will be sold.n 120,000 bottles of wine uncorked.
  •  Over 40,000 shuttle runs made between course and town by the fleet of buses put on for the four-day stint.

A Tuesday record crowd of 63,249 people watched the first day unfold.

Irish accents, as ever, flooded through the venue with the usual estimates claiming there are anything up to 10,000 of them frequenting a place that just got dearer to our hearts.

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