Walsh is Fly in the ointment for bookies

BOOKMAKERS were left singing the blues after a Ruby Tuesday with Ruby Walsh completing his comeback from a broken leg in style with a near 75-1 treble that saw punters on top after day one of Cheltenham.

Ladbrokes were among the layers left reeling as Walsh lived up to his billing as favourite to be leading jockey at the four-day feast.

A year on from the worst festival in living memory for punters, the crowds returned and set about emptying the satchels of the bookies — and Walsh was the one name that left them suffering.

David Williams of Ladbrokes said: “Ruby looked bruised when he arrived, but he’s left the bookies battered. Ruby Tuesday was a nightmare for us. We’ll be happy to leave day one behind us.”

Walsh scored with Al Ferof (10-1) in the opening Stan James Supreme Novices’ Hurdle before lifting the roof with 11-4 favourite Hurricane Fly in the Stan James Champion Hurdle and 5-6 banker Quevega in the David Nicholson Mares‘ Hurdle.

“We’re battening down the hatches with Walsh. When punters wake up and make their selections he’s going to be on every shortlist in the Cotswolds,” added Williams.

Stan James were happy to sponsor the Champion, but it proved a costly race for them as the first two home were Hurricane Fly and Peddlers Cross, far and away the two worst results in their book. Spokesman Garry McGibbon said: “To make matters worse we’ve given away a shed load of free bets as a consequence of Hurricane Fly winning.

“We ran a Free Bet Giveaway last autumn saying we’d give away free bets if Binocular won the Champion Hurdle, but because Binocular never ran we replaced him with Hurricane Fly.

“Add that to the fact we refunded all ante-post stakes on Binocular, it’s turned out to be a very costly way to mark our first sponsorship of the Stan James Champion Hurdle!”

Whether Cue Card won the opener was thought to be a marker for day one as a whole. Bookmakers raised a huge sigh of relief when the favourite was turned over, but their joy was shortlived.

Victory for Walsh on the Paul Nicholls-trained grey Al Ferof kick-started the Irish jockey’s red-letter day.

Paddy Power estimated they were saved from a paying out in excess of €1.5million had Cue Card obliged. After breaking even in the opener, they won on the Arkle Trophy due to Medermit’s demise and Captain Chris (6-1) coming out on top. But the tide turned in the Spinal Research Handicap Chase when 5-1 shot Bensalem made amends for a fall last year when landing the spoils and costing the firm €1m.

Paddy Power were down €3.5m more with Walsh driving home Hurricane Fly in the Champion. Paddy Power said: “Hurricane Fly flying up the hill has definitely swung things in favour of punters. But it’s a long haul flight to the winning post on Friday.”

Picture: RU BEAUTY: Jockey Ruby Walsh collects the trophy after Hurricane Fly wins the Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy during Centenary Day at Cheltenham Racecourse. Picture: PA

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