Tuesday 22 January 2019

Bookies left counting the cost as favourites rule roost

"You're looking for something that the market has underrated, and most people don't do that." Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Alan Tyers

If you had a quid for every press release about how bookies are facing annihilation should such-and-such a combination of favourites come in, you'd be as rich as… well, you'd be as rich as a bookie.

The first day of Cheltenham began with the now-traditional sounds of the men and women with the satchels declaring that they were a couple of Ruby Walsh fist-pumps away from putting their grandmother out on the streets but, while reports of their imminent demise were exaggerated, this was still a day to forget for the old enemy.

By the end of the fourth race, the sun was shining but there was not much in the way of sunny disposition among the bookies down by the Guinness tent. This is the land of tenners and twenties, and three out of the first four races had been won by the favourite. Small-time layers handed over wads to queues of already-glowing patrons.

Durham bookie Alan Dobbin focused on one positive: they hadn't taken all that many bets in the first place. Fellow layer Dave Spice had himself a worryingly well-populated queue of punters to pay. Not nice.

At the other end of the market, Star Sports ('the Gentleman Bookmakers') were taking bets to the tune of, for instance, £15,000 (€16,900) on Coo Star Sivola to win £75,000 (€84,500), and were not among those charmed by Lizzie Kelly's tears and roar of celebration as she entered the winners' enclosure.

So how do the layers deal with these wild swings of fortune? And how should punters ensure a few more days like yesterday?

"Like anything, you don't want to be backing the obvious and the fashionable, it's like buying shares in Apple or Vodafone, it's after the Lord Mayor's show, there is no value in that. Man United are probably going to beat Bolton Wanderers, but everybody is going to think the same thing, so there is no value, is there?

"You're looking for something that the market has underrated, and most people don't do that."

Julie Williams grew up steeped in bookmaking. Her father was 'Fearless' Freddie Williams, whose duels with JP McManus are the stuff of Cheltenham legend.

"Way back when, a bad day here could break your year," she said. "You'd be laying £6,000 on a horse, well, you could buy a house with that then."

While the big players can absorb a Mullins-Walsh hotpot and still enjoy dinner, for the smaller bookies there will always be trips into hell in the Cotswolds. Yesterday was one of them.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)


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