Friday is Frightday for anxious bookmakers
Bookmakers are bracing themselves for a Festival Frightday, when wins on the final afternoon for Defi Du Seuil, Death Duty and The Storyteller would be the stuff of nightmares.
A year ago punters gave layers a hiding on all four days at Cheltenham, but with Willie Mullins' team looking a shade less invincible this time the betting landscape has a different shape to it. This time it's the latter part of the week that has bookmakers fearing the worst, Friday in particular.
Defi Du Seuil, hot favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, the opener on Friday, is high on most firms' lists of the week's biggest losers, while Death Duty in the Albert Bartlett is seen as another banker by many, particularly in Ireland.
The gamble in the same day's Martin Pipe Hurdle on The Storyteller, who like Death Duty is part of Gordon Elliott's formidable team, has been a more recent phenomenon.
Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes said: "Defi Du Seuil is the worst result of the festival, while Death Duty is the Irish banker of the week, and The Storyteller has emerged as one of the biggest movers. And also on Friday On The Fringe (Foxhunter) is expected to be backed off the boards."
Paul Binfield of Paddy Power spoke in similar vein saying: "Melon in the Supreme on Tuesday is our worst loser of the week, as we've laid him at all prices from 33-1, but it's Friday that has us worried most.
"Defi Du Seuil is one of the bankers of the week for British punters, while Death Duty is the same for the Irish. If they both win we're in for multiples madness. Then there's The Storyteller, one of the biggest gambles of the festival so far."
The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup is traditionally the biggest betting race of the week and the second biggest of the year, and while Thistlecrack's absence through injury has relieved bookmakers of what was shaping up to be their biggest liability of the week, they are not out of the woods.
Andrew Griffiths of Betfred said: "We still have nightmares about last year’s festival, which was the worst we can ever remember, but this year’s has an entirely different shape to it.
"There’s no Mullins hotpot-multi to turn bookies into nervous wrecks on day one, so we could be on for a Barcelona-style comeback.
"Our biggest loser on the week would have been Thistlecrack by a country mile. His absence is a shame, but the result is a cracking betting heat with Native River the best backed since his stablemate departed. He’s taken the mantle as our top loser on the week and is 7-2 from 33-1."
Irish bookmakers have a greater fear of a first Djakadam win after two seconds in the race. Liam Glynn of BoyleSports said: "Overall, we approach the festival in good shape, but a lot will hinge on Djakadam. Melon is our worst ante-post result of the week and if he manages to win it will kick-start many Mullins multiples.
"The ground on the day will be key as to how we trade the Gold Cup. The market's shaping into a genuine UK v Ireland affair.
"Djakadam is by far our worst ante-post result in the race and our traders are forecasting this liability may well turn into our biggest if stablemates such as Melon, Un De Sceaux, Yorkhill, Let’s Dance and Carter McKay oblige earlier in the week."
Mullins looks virtually assured of a good winner or two, but Elliott looks almost as strong and his runners have been particularly well backed with Coral.
Spokesman Dave Stevens said: "For the first time in several years we don't go into the festival fearing a Willie Mullins hammering on day one, but a feature since we went non-runner no bet has been the money for several of Elliott's runners, chief among them Cause Of Causes (Cross Country), Diamond King (Plate), The Storyteller (Martin Pipe) and Automated (Coral Cup).
"A good week for Elliott is likely to be painful for us."
Ladbrokes' top 10 losers
1 Defi Du Seuil (Triumph)
2 Native River (Gold Cup)
3 Yanworth (Champion Hurdle)
4 Altior (Arkle)
5 Finian's Oscar (Neptune)
6 Unowhatimeanharry (Stayers)
7 Death Duty (Albert Bartlett)
8 Un De Sceaux (Ryanair)
9 Moon Racer (Supreme)
10 Arpege D'Alene (NH Chase)
Betfred's ante-post eye-catchers
1 Western Ryder (Bumper) 7-1 from 25-1
2 Automated (Coral Cup) 10-1 from 20-1
3 Yanworth (Champion Hurdle) 3-1 from 16-1
4 Moon Racer (Champion Hurdle) 9-1 from 33-1
5 Uxizandre (Ryanair) 11-2 from 25-1
6 Un De Sceaux (Ryanair) 3-1 from 12-1
7 Altior (Arkle) 1-4 from 4-1
8 A Genie In Abottle (NH Chase) 9-2 from 16-1