Saturday 18 November 2017

Bookmakers facing €30million hammering on Day One

Kevin Perry

Three short hours on Tuesday afternoon will set the tone for the bookmakers’ year. There are four short-price favourites among the afternoon's seven-race card that opens the Cheltenham Festival. If they all come in, the bookies will be £25 million poorer by the end of the day.

This year’s Festival arrives with the usual fanfare but without a star draw card of the likes of Kauto Star or Denman, who have both been retired.

But there is an unmistakable air of expectation that has been missing in recent years. Jump racing fans believe that they are in for something special. In Simonsig today and Sprinter Sacre tomorrow the stars of the future will be showcasing their talent and the four days in the picturesque Cotswolds promise to be the scene of one of the most intriguing Festivals for years.

If My Tent Or Yours, Simonsig, Hurricane Fly and Quevega all win there will be no hiding place in the betting ring.

The competitive nature of the Cheltenham meeting means that it normally props up the bottom line for bookmakers. Shock results like Norton’s Coin’s 100-1 Gold Cup win for sheep farmer Sirrell Griffiths in 1990, while not commonplace, are certainly more frequent here than in day-to-day race meetings.

However, this year things are different. Or at least the bookmakers’ odds are suggesting that they will be. William Hill estimate that they will face liabilities of £5 million if all four win.

The concerted passing of the old guard has meant that there is a perhaps unprecedented opportunity for potential stars to emerge. My Tent or Yours has been a short-priced favourite for the opening race, the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, since he demolished a field of seasoned handicappers at Newbury last month.

His presence has scared away plenty of opposition and the 12 runners represents a surprisingly small field for a championship contest

Nicky Henderson has trained more winners than anybody else at the Festival and his young hurdler will be ridden by 17-times Champion Jockey AP McCoy who is second only to the peerless big-race specialist Ruby Walsh in terms of winners here. The fate of the nation’s cash could not be in better hands.

McCoy’s never-say-die attitude and his success in the saddle – he is approaching an unbeatable lifetime total of 4,000 winners – ensures a huge following from punters and the weight of their money may well see the price shorten further from the 7-4 that was being offered last night. When the tapes go up at 1.30pm bookmakers will be holding their breath.

If My Tent Or Yours has strong claims, Simonsig is considered as close to a banker as this meeting offers in the next race, the Racing Post Arkle Chase. Grey horses, such as Desert Orchid, always capture the imagination. When they have flair and exotic talent they become superstars.

Simonsig is not that good yet, but he just might be one day and that promise has been as easy to identify as he is during a race.

Just over an hour later Hurricane Fly, who won the Champion Hurdle in 2011 and was third behind Rock On Ruby last year after a troubled preparation, will start favourite for third consecutive year in this feature event.

Never was there so much riding on his muscular shoulders and his trainer believes the horse is in the form of his life.

If by 4.40 the bookmakers are relying on Quevega to seriously underperform to get them out of trouble they will surely need divine intervention for this bold mare has proved unbeatable on four previous visits to the Cotswolds for this race.

She always returns to the winners’ enclosure amid a rapturous Irish welcome. This year there might be silence on the other side of the grandstands.

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