Bookies braced for St Patrick’s Day backlash

IT was the bookmakers who were all smiles despite a virtual Irish monopoly on day two of the Cheltenham Festival.

Irish raiders scooped the first six races on the card, but apart from 5-1 favourite Chicago Grey in the opening National Hunt Chase, winners were not that easy to find.

Sizing Europe (10-1) grabbed the headlines when lifting the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

In taking the crown, Henry de Bromhead‘s 2010 Arkle hero left last year‘s winner Big Zeb having to play second fiddle.

The layers were not only cheering defeat for that one but also for Master Minded, whose slim chance was snuffed out by a bad mistake two out.

Bostons Angel (16-1) was an even bigger surprise in the RSA Chase as better-fancied fellow Irish challengers and Britain’s big hope Time For Rupert bit the dust.

Gordon Elliott had his first ever winners at the festival courtesy of Chicago Grey and the Gigginstown Stud-owned Carlito Brigante (16-1) in the Coral Cup.

There was more joy for the Irish as Gigginstown’s First Lieutenant (7-1) took the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle for Mouse Morris, as well as a tidy coup being landed by the Arthur Moore team with the unexposed What A Charm (9-1) in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Neither the Irish nor the punters enjoyed the rub of the green in the concluding Weatherbys Champion Bumper as 14-1 shot Cheltenian landed the spoils, with two big outsiders filling the places.

David Williams of Ladbrokes said: “The rule of thumb used to be that Irish winners tended to spell big trouble for the bookies but that myth has been smashed to bits.

“Chicago Grey in the opener was lousy but after that we had a blinding day. All the hotpots went down and we’ve reached the half-time whistle on the front foot.” But the bookies are now braced for a St Patrick’s Day backlash as confidence continues to grow in what is fast becoming the Cheltenham Irish Festival. “We’ve a long way to go before we can declare it a bookie’s Festival. We fully expect the fancied Irish horses to be backed off the boards on St Patrick’s Day,” he added.

William Hill believe punters left behind around £10million at the bookmakers as monumental gambles on So Young, Time for Rupert, and Master Minded all went astray. Their spokesperson Kate Miller said: “We’ve struck gold, it’s as simple as that.

“St Patrick’s Day has come a day early for the bookies as the Irish have copped us a fortune .”

Results also went the way of totesport. “The defeats of hot favourites So Young and Time For Rupert were always going to be manna from heaven for the layers, but we managed to dodge a bullet in the shape of What A Charm which leaves us in fine fettle heading into the third day,” said their spokesman George Primarolo.

Coral did not fare as well, however.

“This is an unprecedented six-timer for the Irish at Cheltenham today, and following three winners yesterday, British bookies have paid out millions over the last two days”, said their spokesman Simon Clare.

“We are now bracing ourselves for multi-million pounds St Patrick’s Day punts on all the major Irish fancies tomorrow and if they were to win all six races tomorrow it will cost bookies over £20million. We are now desperately hoping that the luck of the Irish has run out.”

Despite bouncing back from losing round one, the bookmakers know the war is far from over with two days left. “The wins of Bostons Angel and Sizing Europe among others on day two brought a big smile to our faces, but we’re not getting carried away just yet,” said Stan James spokesman Garry McGibbon.

“If Big Buck’s wins the World Hurdle on Thursday we’re cooked.”

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