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Punters hit the front in battle with bookmakers

Punters floored the bookmakers with a string of well-backed winners on day three of the Cheltenham Festival.

The layers just about held the edge at the halfway stage and had a false dawn in the opener on Thursday when 4-9 favourite Envoi Allen, one of the bankers of the week, was an early casualty in the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

His exit blew the race wide open and it was left to the Nicky Henderson-trained Chantry House (9-1) to land the spoils.

One punter who was happy he decided not to pin half a million hopes on Envoi Allen was Betfair client Paul Dean. He partially cashed out for £250,000 after all the previous legs of his £5 accumulator had won.

The layers had another narrow escape when 100-30 favourite The Bosses Oscar had to play second fiddle to Mrs Milner (12-1) in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.

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But then the tide turned with Allaho (3-1 favourite) justifying strong support in the Ryanair Chase for Willie Mullins and Rachael Blackmore.

The Shunter (9-4 favourite) was probably the best-backed winner in the Paddy Power Plate, while Telmesomethinggirl (5-1) was another popular one for the irrepressible Blackmore in the Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

The defeat of 9-4 favourite Paisley Park in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, won by Flooring Porter (12-1), did little to cheer the bookmakers, while the incredible last-to-first dash of Mount Ida (3-1 favourite) in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup summed up their day.

“Envoi Allen’s defeat in the Marsh ended the run of opening-race winning favourites this week, while the ever popular Paisley Park could manage only third place in the Stayers’ Hurdle,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

“But if they were the highlights for us, plenty of punters cheered home two more winners for the in-form Rachael Blackmore in Allaho and Telmesomethinggirl, while The Shunter landed one of the gambles of the week in the Plate.

“With the biggest day of the week to come, there’s still all to play for in this stay at home Festival, with Blackmore’s mount, A Plus Tard, likely to prove extremely popular in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup betting – to the point where the duo could even be sent off favourite in place of the hat-trick-seeking Al Boum Photo.”

Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: “That was a shocker of a day for the bookies with a string of bad results including the smashed-up The Shunter and Mount Ida in the lucky last.

“We were winning yesterday, but we’re down on the week now and need a good Gold Cup day to recover.”

Betway’s Chad Yeomans summed up the feelings of the layers.

“After a good opening two days for us, the punters have definitely had the edge today. It’s very quiet in on the trading room floor right now,” he said.

“It was sad to see Envoi Allen over-jump and not make it round. We’re all here to watch fantastic racing and we were starved of that in the opener. It was brilliant to see him get straight up though and he’ll have another day – or many other days – to earn punters their cash back.

“The Shunter, Telmesomethinggirl and Mount Ida were our three biggest losing results of the day, so when they all were victories in the last three races, it meant for a bad afternoon. The pendulum has swung in the punters’ favour going into day four.”

No racegoers and no on-course betting – but Festival still expected to produce big numbers

Bookmakers are still priming themselves for a bumper Cheltenham Festival, despite betting shops being closed and the absence of racegoers and on-course betting due to the pandemic.

The layers do not expect the current situation will prevent the four days of the meeting from being the biggest in the calendar.

What turnover will be compared to £500million throughout Cheltenham week in 2020 is impossible to predict. However, many punters have gone online and with extended television coverage it is still expected to be high.

Coral’s David Stevens said: “It’s a real shame betting shops are shut as it’s a massive week for the shops across the country. It’s the biggest week of the year for the betting industry.

It will be a very different Cheltenham this year
It will be a very different Cheltenham this year (Tim Goode/PA)

“On the plus side we have seen punters switch online in the last year so hopefully turnover will still prove to be very healthy.

“Last year 26 of the top 30 races by turnover online for us were Cheltenham races. It is the biggest week of the year for the betting industry and there is no reason it won’t be the same this year.

“The Martin Pipe, the last race of the Festival, was the fourth race biggest race of the year for us. It was the second biggest betting race of the entire Cheltenham Festival behind the Gold Cup.

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“Punters know it’s their last chance to have a Festival bet for another 12 months and Friday in particular is different again. All seven races on the Friday were in the top 20 last year.

“Television coverage must also not be underestimated in boosting the popularity of the Festival.

“We have extra coverage on ITV this year, most people will still be at home, terrestrial figures should be high.”

Appreciate It is a banker for many in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Appreciate It is a banker for many in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (PA)

The favourites are more evenly spread than in recent years, which could affect how well they are supported.

Stevens added: “We’ve got two warm favourites to start the day – Appreciate It and Shishkin – but beyond that throughout the week there are enough competitive races that any bookmaker will fancy their chances of getting one or two beaten because they don’t always all win.

“There’s a spread of favourites this year. Obviously Willie Mullins has got Chacun Pour Soi and Monkfish, but Nicky Henderson has Shishkin and Henry de Bromhead has Envoi Allen.

“On Friday we’ve got Al Boum Photo going for a third Gold Cup and the race is wide open.”

Rupert Adams of William Hill is in no doubt it will still be a good Festival.

“We think turnover will be down a small amount obviously as we’ve got a big retail arm – 1,400 shops and we have all the on-course shops at Cheltenham. We expect to be down between five and 10 per cent,” said Adams.

Al Boum Photo is favourite to win a third Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo is favourite to win a third Gold Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

“The TV coverage is brilliant so we’re confident it’s going to be a really good meeting, but we are slightly nervous about several horses, all of which are pretty obvious.”

Paddy Power have three horses that would be big losers for them, according to their spokesperson Paul Binfield.

“Our three biggest Cheltenham losers are a bit of a mixed bag,” he said.

“On the opening day Goshen is a big loser in the Champion Hurdle, the following day Irish raider Bob Olinger is the one we are afraid of in the Ballymore and we’ve also got a massive loser in one of the handicaps, the Martin Pipe on Friday.

“Galopin Des Champs has been extremely popular with punters. The Carlow conjurer (Mullins) sending one over to help punters out in the lucky last.”

Goshen was a desperately unlucky loser in last year's Triumph Hurdle
Goshen was a desperately unlucky loser in last year’s Triumph Hurdle (Simon Cooper/PA)

Betfair, meanwhile, are wary of two horses on day one, as Barry Orr explained.

“The Ultima looks a weak since declarations came through and we are only seen money for one horse and that’s Happygolucky. Kim Bailey has good record in these types of races at the Cheltenham Festival and punters can see no other winner in this,” he said.

“Since Goshen’s impressive win in the Kingwell Hurdle he’s been very popular amongst backers to gain redemption in the Champion Hurdle and is now challenging Epatante for the second-favourite spot behind Honeysuckle.”