Bookies dodge bullet as Benie stumble saves layers 'millions'
Bookmakers came out well on top in the first round of the war with punters on an extraordinary opening day at the Cheltenham Festival.
The final-flight fall of Benie Des Dieux in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, with the race at her mercy, summed up the afternoon for the backers.
The dramatic exit of the 10/11 favourite evoked memories of Annie Power in the same race four years ago that saved the layers millions as Roksana (10/1) picked up the pieces to take the prize this time.
Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes said: "We have dodged a real bullet today, particularly in the Mares' Hurdle where Benie Des Dieux replicated Annie Power's dramatic fall in 2015. The result has saved the industry millions of pounds, but it is only day one, so we won't be counting our chickens yet."
The day had started fairly well for punters with Willie Mullins taking the first two races with Klassical Dream (6/1) and Duc Des Genievres (5/1) before the climate changed.
The top three in the Champion Hurdle - Apple's Jade, Laurina and Buveur D'Air - were out of it as 16/1 shot Espoir D'Allen landed the spoils for Gavin Cromwell in the Buveur D'Air colours of JP McManus.
Betway's Alan Alger said: "The collective groan that sounded around Cheltenham as Benie Des Dieux crashed out at the last summed up the day for punters.
"After the three big guns in the Champion Hurdle all bombed out, Willie Mullins' odds-on favourite in the following Mares' Hurdle was the get out of jail free card that the majority of punters invested in, but it wasn't to be."
Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: "We were fearing the worst after two Mullins' winners, but then results turned massively in the layers' favour and the books are well up on the first day."
Even the victory of one market leader, A Plus Tard (5/1), could not alter the course of the day which saw other double-priced winners in Beware The Bear (10/1) and Le Breuil (14/1).
The surprise results produced a Cheltenham Festival record toteplacepot dividend and the second biggest of all time.
The £91,283.90 toteplacepot was won by just 10.50 units and was more than double the previous Festival best which paid £44,616 on Lord Windermere's Gold Cup Day in 2014.
Totepool spokesman Matt Hulmes said "We know how popular the toteplacepot is, and with dividends like this it's incredible to think this can be won without having a winner on the card. Over £1m was bet into it."
A reminder that you can get all the behind-the-scenes action from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival with Michael Verney over on the Independent Sport Instagram page.