Thursday 23 March 2017

Bookies take a beating on Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Walsh collects the trophy after his mount Hurricane Fly won yesterday's big race, the Champion Hurdle. Photo: PA
Ruby Walsh collects the trophy after his mount Hurricane Fly won yesterday's big race, the Champion Hurdle. Photo: PA

Bookmakers were left singing the blues yesterday after a 'Ruby Tuesday' on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Top Irish jockey Ruby Walsh has been out of action for nearly four months with a broken leg -- and just last week on his comeback he suffered a badly bruised eye in another fall.

But that wasn't enough to stop the popular jockey giving the Irish a much-needed dream start to the festival with three winners with combined odds of 75-1.

David Williams of bookmakers Ladbrokes said: "Ruby looked bruised when he arrived, but he's left the bookies battered. Ruby Tuesday was a nightmare for us. We'll be happy to leave day one behind us."

The jockey admitted he wasn't the happiest of individuals to be sidelined for so long.

He took time to thank his surgeons, IRFU fitness guru Brian Green -- who he was introduced to by rugby star Ronan O'Gara -- and his ever-so-patient wife Gillian after he just made it back from injury to ride at the famous meeting.

"I can't have been that easy a guy to live with for the last four months, so fair play to Gillian," a slightly emotional Ruby admitted after taking the opening race of the four-day festival aboard Al Ferof.

"Behind every good man there's a woman," one of a beaming group from Northern Ireland quipped, as he jokingly clapped the eight-months pregnant Gillian heartily on the back.

But the best was yet to come for Ruby and the Irish as the jockey rode the heavily backed Hurricane Fly to victory in the feature race of the day, the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

"It's fantastic. He's never won the Champion Hurdle before; he really, really wanted to win," Gillian beamed, jokingly denying Ruby was anything other than a "good patient".

Allergic

In the parade ring, former 'Brookside' star and TV personality Claire Sweeney was refusing to let one small detail disturb her afternoon -- the fact she is allergic to horses.

"I've taken a few antihistamines," said Claire, who is currently starring in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical on tour in Cheltenham.

Perched aboard her

red-soled Louboutins, Claire, who is judging today's Ladies' Day competition, said the fashion was very different from other tracks as she glanced out at the sea of tweed.

Elsewhere, some ex-politicians were avoiding such sensitive matters as, erm, politics.

Former Fianna Fail agriculture minister Joe Walsh was spotted enjoying a day out; so too was former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

The former finance minister and EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy, accompanied by his wife Noeleen, made off at a swift trot when the subject of the new Government was broached.

Limerick businessman JP McManus was similarly evasive when it came to matters of government, but admitted a single win from one of his horses would satisfy him.

Alas, no sooner were the words out of his mouth than Sunnyhillboy in the famous green and gold colours promptly fell in the third.

Punters had to doff their hats to Ruby again as he delivered a hat-trick on the first day when the 5-6 shot Quevega took the David Nicholson Mare's Hurdle for the third year running.

Both owners, the 'Hammer' Ger O'Brien, from Kildare, and the 'Trowel' Sean Deane, from Leitrim, were effusive about the talent of Walsh but reticent on the economic turmoil afflicting the construction profession.

"We had our faith in the uber-confident Ruby," quipped Mr Deane.

So, too, had the punters, sighed the wiped-out Irish bookies after an estimated €10m payout.

"Punters will back Ruby blind no matter who he is on," said Boylesports' Leon Blanche.

Paddy Power estimated patriotic punters pocketed more than €3.5m on Hurricane Fly as Irish trainers delivered three wins on the day.

Punters can only dream of more days like this.

Irish Independent

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