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Cheltenham: First blood to punters as fancied horses hit layers hard.

Byline: David Ashforth

The busiest opening day of the Festival many ring bookmakers can remember produced hectic action, boosted by problems with the Tote's on-course operation.

When ties were loosened and jackets removed most bookmakers were staring at minus figures, and many punters, particularly those who got to work early, wore sunny smiles.

The afternoon got off to a thunderingly bad start for layers when Back In Front took pounds 375,000 out of the ring in recorded bets alone, including a bet of pounds 125,000 to pounds 50,000 laid by Freddie Williams.

Azertyuiop's widely predicted victory in the Arkle removed another pounds 275,000, with one bet of pounds 75,000 to pounds 50,000 and another of pounds 60,000 to pounds 40,000.

At least one bookmaker was glad that it was Azertyuiop rather than Hand Inn Hand who triumphed, having laid a bet of pounds 100,000 to pounds 10,000 about Henry Daly's runner, with another bet of pounds 90,000 to pounds 10,000 Isio.

Although much of the pre-race talk about the Champion Hurdle revolved around Rhinestone Cowboy, the heavy players seem to have stayed away, with recorded bets threatening to take a relatively modest pounds 170,000 out of the ring, far less than Rooster Booster.

The winner was backed in to 9-2 from 6-1, with one thumping bet of pounds 150,000 to pounds 30,000 and a string of other significant assaults.

Cheltenham watchers may have expected to see JP McManus deliver a hefty blow to the ring when Youlneverwalkalone won the William Hill National Hunt Chase, but McManus appears not to have played - to the relief of the bookmakers.

The biggest single recorded bet on the winner was pounds 10,000 to pounds 1,400, with bets widely spread among his rivals, notably Ad Hoc, backed from 7-1 to 5-1 joint-favourite to join Joss Naylor.

Misery turned to less misery when Royal Predica was effectively a skinner. The picture would have been very different if the positions of the first two had been reversed, for runner-up Ibis Rochelais was the gamble of the day. Backed from 13-2 to 4-1 favourite, he would have removed over pounds 500,000 from the ring, with one bet of pounds 240,000 to pounds 40,000.

Even that wasn't the biggest potential loser. McManus's Silver Steel was backed to take out pounds 900,000, including the bet of pounds 700,000 to pounds 100,000 laid by Williams.

The day ended on a fairly mild note, with a well spread market, but most bookmakers were left with lost ground to recover.

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David Ashforth reports from the ring on the busiest opening session to a Festival many bookmakers could remember
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 12, 2003
Words:460
Previous Article:Opening day is hailed as a 'terrific success'.
Next Article:Cheltenham: The Bookmaker Freddie Williams: `So I'm thinking of giving up and then Royal Predica won'.


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