Massacre of the punters as bookies enjoy a dream start
THOSE pesky bankers simply aren't reliable these days. Whether its stocks or horses, it's just hard to know whom to trust.
A massive pay-out from the bookies might have offered a chink of light from the economic gloom as there were plenty of Irish 'bankers' being touted for the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Alas, lady luck was simply not shining. The Irish punters lost and they lost hard. There were Irish winners but the heavily-backed favourites, carrying those wads of hard-earned money and people's diminishing hopes, failed to rise to the occasion.
The winners' enclosure echoed to slightly muted applause as the rising star, the 4-5 favourite, Dunguib, only managed third spot in the opening race.
"If I was told two years ago I would be third in the race, I would be thrilled," his co-owner Dan Hartnett, from Killenaule, Co Tipperary, graciously confessed.
The Novices' Hurdle was instead cheekily nabbed by Menorah -- a horse bred only a mile away from the Tipperary man's home.
"I told (breeder) Liz Grant if I was to be beaten then I'd like her to win it -- and she did," he said.
The punters may not have been quite so gracious, however. There was a shocked silence in the Guinness Village as punters' swallowed their losses, along with thousands of pints of the black stuff.
Ireland in its entirety had backed the horse in the race, according to bookmakers.
They were counting the profits as Paddy Power estimated that punters may have lost up to €10m on Dunguib, while Boylesports cautiously felt that the figure may have been somewhat closer to €6m.
Such was the confidence that one Ladbrokes punter had a £250,000 (€275,000) flutter on Dunguib.
It was a case of deja vu in the Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase as once again the favourite was beaten, this time by Waterford trainer Henry de Bromhead's Sizing Europe.
Ann Potts owns the horse with her mining-magnate husband Alan, who was watching from home. She quipped: "It's my birthday and my wedding anniversary today -- 62 and 32 years."
It took racing's Iron Man, Tony McCoy, to set the winners' enclosure alight, as he came in aboard Binocular, with two fists held aloft in a salute to the joyous crowd.
Yet many of the Irish punters had backed the wrong horse. Their money was riding on the favourite, Go Native, whose Galway-based owners were in line to share a £1m (€1.1m) payout if he completed racing's 'triple crown' with a win in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle.
"I just feel elated," said billionaire businessman JP McManus, after his horse, Binocular, won.
"Last year, I felt a lot of anticipation -- this year, I'd torn up my ticket,"said McManus, who celebrated his 59th birthday last week .
"Champions are hard to come by and he is a champion."
Another watching the race closely was Co Carlow's Lar Byrne, the owner of now retired punters' favourite and two-time Champion Hurdle winner, Hardy Eustace.
"You couldn't miss the first Cheltenham Champion Hurdle without Hardy," he quipped, as he looked forward to seeing Schindlers Hunt, owned by the extended Byrne family in action later in the week.
Others spotted yesterday included actor James Nesbitt, who owns a leg of Riverside Theatre, which ran in the second race; Ryanair's Michael O'Leary; Bill Cullen's right-hand man Brian Purcell; international three-day-event champion and British royal Zara Phillips; north Tipperary TD Michael Lowry and the veteran Cheltenham-goer and former finance minister Charlie McCreevy.
Punters' patience was well and truly dry by the time the well-backed favourite from the inimitable partnership of jockey Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins delivered Quevega safely past the post and into the winners' enclosure.
"The first five results were absolutely fantastic for the bookies, they couldn't possibly have dreamed of a better start," said a delighted Leon Blanche from Boylesports.
However, he said of the punters who were disappointed today: "They still have a little bit of powder left for the next day in terms of going to war against the bookies."
Or, so they hope.
At the end of day one, the Irish raiders and the English trainers were even in the legendary battle for National Hunt supremacy.