Bookies hail old foe Walsh as the first-day saviour after Apple's turnover
Ruby Walsh, normally the enemy of the bookmakers, saved them a multi-million pound payout on day one of Cheltenham when landing the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle aboard 9-2 shot Benie Des Dieux.
After two of the afternoon’s short-priced 'good things' – Footpad (5-6) and Buveur D’Air (4-6) – had justified their market position in the Racing Post Arkle Chase and Unibet Champion Hurdle respectively, the layers were fearing a first-day caning when 1-2 shot Apple’s Jade went to post for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, with numerous accumulators rolling up.
However, the Gordon Elliott-trained hotpot could manage only third place as Walsh steered Benie Des Dieux to victory – and there was even more joy for the bookies with each-way banker La Bague Au Roi finishing out of the frame after a final-flight blunder.
Rupert Adams, spokesman for William Hill, said: “We've gone from losing well over a million to just shading the opening day. It's not often that a Ruby Walsh winner saves us a seven-figure payout.”
Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes also expressed relief that Apple’s Jade failed to make the winner’s enclosure.
“Day one has gone in favour of the punters, but only just," she said. "It was swings and roundabouts throughout the afternoon but victories for hot-favourites Footpad, Coo Star Sivola and Buveur D’Air has given punters the lead.
“Had Apple’s Jade won, we would've been looking at one of the worst opening days in festival history. There was a £4million swing on Gordon Elliott’s star, so the cheers from the trading floor raised the roof when she was beaten.”
David Stevens of Coral said in similar vein: “We’ve no complaints about finishing a close second to the punters on a day that could have been so much more costly."
Bookmakers would have preferred the last-race photo finish to have gone the way of Rather Be, instead of 13-2 chance Mister Whitaker, and Betfred spokesman Matt Hulmes said: “The well-backed Mister Whitaker landing the last put the punters slightly ahead on day one, but it could have been much worse. We’re not complaining and it’s game on for day two.”
Star Sports laid plenty of big bets on day one, including an £80,000-£20,000 each-way on Benie Des Dieux to an office client.
Another bet placed via the office was a £75,000-£15,000 about Ultima Handicap Chase scorer Coo Star Sivola.
Members can read the latest exclusive interviews, news analysis and comment available from 6pm daily on racingpost.com