Cheltenham bookies braced for Willie Mullins rout
The bookies are bracing themselves for carnage on the opening day of the Cheltenham festival tomorrow with Willie Mullins-mania gripping punters.
The big four trained by Mullins – Champagne Fever, Hurricane Fly, Quevega and Vautour – are all heavily backed with many punters lining them up in precarious 'multiples' or accumulator bets.
A whopping €120m is anticipated to be wagered with Irish bookies over the course of the week, according to Paddy Power bookmakers.
Turnover is expected to top last year's takings, thanks to an easing of cash flow, due to the slight relaxation of austerity among punters.
Some 14,000 racing fans are expected to fly with Ryanair, which added more than 50 extra flights to Birmingham, Bristol and East Midlands for the four-day event, while Aer Lingus said it was also carrying extra traffic to England for the famous race meeting.
Day one could be "make or break" for bookies if the four big favourites – the British horse Irving, Ted Walsh's Foxrock and Willie Mullins' runners Champagne Fever and Hurricane Fly – win.
Having vowed to refund all stakes on horses placed second, third and fourth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Paddy Power says it is keeping a particularly close eye on Irving. The offer means Irving is more popular than other big losers. A win for the Paul Nicholls-trained hurdler will see the bookie having to not only pay out on a well-backed winner but also forced to give punters their 'hard-earned' cash back on the second, third and fourth-place finishers.
Boylesports is also living in fear of Willie Mullins' runners – many punters have his horses in numerous multiples.
Bookmakers William Hill echoed the fears, saying: "There are some hot-favourites – particularly those trained by Irish master Willie Mullins, which we would like to see defeated."
If all four of Mullins' horses win, a £1 (€1.20) accumulator bet with the bookmakers would pay well over £100 (€120), the British bookmakers revealed.
If Mullins' Hurricane Fly succeeds in winning a third Champion Hurdle, it would be one of the worst results of the festival for them, William Hill spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said.
They say tomorrow is "all about Irish trainer Willie Mullins".
Meanwhile, they believe Mullins has a potential record-breaker with Quevega – who has won the Mares' Hurdle for five years in a row.
If she were to win tomorrow, it would break champion steeplechaser Golden Miller's record for number of Cheltenham Festival wins that has stood since he won five Gold Cups in the 1930s.
On Wednesday, the highlight is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, where Sire De Grugy, for trainer Gary Moore and his jockey-son Jamie Moore, is strongly fancied to claim the crown.
On Thursday, the rivalry between Britain and Ireland will reach fever pitch, as Big Buck's aims for a fifth World Hurdle title. Standing in his way is Annie Power – again trained by Willie Mullins – who is undefeated in 10 starts.
Friday is the big day with the Cheltenham Gold Cup and this year reigning champion, Bobs Worth for trainer Nicky Henderson, is favourite with William Hill to win the race again.