“The stats say they won’t all win,” said Ruby Walsh, in his Irish Examiner preview of his four mounts – all favourites — on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, but the meeting’s leading rider went agonisingly close to pulling off a famous four-timer which would have knocked the bookmakers for six.
With confidence high in the Mullins camp, and another successful season at home building expectation for the Festival, punters who had latched onto the stable’s hot-pots were waiting on Annie Power to complete the four-timer.
After Douvan, Un De Sceaux, and Faugheen had justified market leadership in their respective races, greeted by chants of “Ruby, Ruby, Ruby”, the expectant crowd was clearing its collective voice for another rendition until hotpot Annie Power clipped the top of the final hurdle, and went tumbling to the ground in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.
The mare was cantering going to the flight, comfortably clear of her chasing stable companion Glens Melody, and traded as low as 1-20 on Betfair.
Victory looked assured and would have given her jockey a record-breaking fourth victory in a single day at the Festival, but a cruel twist of fate intervened.
It was a rare disappointment on a remarkable start to the Festival for punters, but oh how it saved the bookies.
The potential for a day to more than match Frankie Dettori’s bookie-bashing seven-timer at Ascot 19 years ago, became just a ‘bad day at the office’, according to David Williams, of Ladbrokes.
“We’ve never known a day like it. If Annie Power had cleared the last our fate would have been sealed,” he said.
“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.”
Hills spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke reported his firm similarly relived: “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.”
In typical Paddy Power style, there was some good news for punters who went as close as did Ruby Walsh to landing the four-timer, as they refunded those who did that particular accumulator, up to a maximum of £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.”
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