Bookmakers reported honours to be even after the opening day of the festival.
The defeat of Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle looked to have swung the balance firmly back in the layers’ favour but Ruby Walsh’s Quevega duly delivered in the OLBG Mares Hurdle. With Sprinter Sacre successful earlier and Alfie Sherrin and Balthazar King both well supported, punters were still holding some folding at the close of play.
The big-hitters came out to play too, a Ladbrokes punter staking £110,000 to win £100,000 on Sprinter Sacre while William Hill reported a cash bet of £200,000 on Quevega at 4-6 in one of their shops in the south-west of England. Hurricane Fly attracted several cash bets of £30,000 and £20,000 on course — as well as appearing in every accumulator across Ireland and England — and David Williams of Ladbrokes was a relieved man after seeing the champion dethroned. “We half expected to see Steve McQueen leading Rock On Ruby into the Winners’ Enclosure. It really was the Great Escape for us,” he smiled.
It’s a week that calls for deep pockets — and an equally large wad of luck — but a week at Cheltenham doesn’t have to break the bank when it comes to the basics of eating, sleeping and drinking.
For years, the four-day extravaganza has been accompanied by horror stories of exorbitant prices and “No Vacancies” signs, but with so many hotels in the region now and a recession deep into its fifth year there are bargains to be had.
BBC Radio Gloucester certainly discovered one yesterday with the revelation that punters could still avail of a room at the YHA Hostel in Stow-on-the-Wold, in the north-east of the county, for as little as €20 last night.
A dormitory in a hostel may not sound like the most inviting of prospects but the YHA is based in a picturesque Grade II 17th century townhouse in the pretty market town of 2,000 souls up in the Cotswold Hills and sits just half-an-hour from Prestbury Park.
Flights from Ireland to Birmingham, Bristol and London could still be had last night for less than £200, while punters can rock up unannounced for the first three days and purchase a ticket for the Best Mate Enclosure for just £25.
How many Irish have travelled is another matter, but legendary GAA commentator Micheál Ó Muirceartaigh was still busy interviewing those with vested interests, such as Michael O’Leary and JP McManus.
Ex-Galway hurling boss John McIntyre was present on day one, as was festival veteran Charlie McCreevy.
“We will know in the next three or four days but the bookings have been phenomenal and consistently about 10,000 ahead of last year’s rate,” said the course managing director, Edward Gillespie.
“We account for about 225,000 people coming over the four days.”
Whatever the final footfall, it is a monumental undertaking and the local constabulary is leaving little to chance for a period that pumps an estimated £60m into the local economy, with mounted police brought in from Avon and Somerset to help with crowd control.
Locals have been detailed to hand out bottles of mineral water to those who may need a break from refreshments of the alcoholic variety, while posters asking racegoers to “watch your valuables” have been printed to warn those who haven’t already lost everything at the track.
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