[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat a terrific day to kick off the much-anticipated new season at Cheltenham. The weather was glorious as the bookies set up prior to racing. There were a few layers on the missing list with Newbury also hosting their flat card not too far away. Of those that were here it was great to see familiar faces in the ring, it was the first time I’d seen Julie Williams since my visit to Glasgow for her well-received interview (if you missed it, here it is CLICK HERE) which is always a pleasure. Star Sports were betting on the rail, our Tattersalls pitch is just for the festival meetings at Cheltenham.
The punters were certainly keen to get stuck into the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, or rather the favourite of said race. The only one they wanted to be on was Brillare Momento and the mare was backed from 5/4 into 10/11 before nudging back out to even money at the off. No doubt the firms that decided to forsake Cheltenham for Newbury were nodding to themselves that they’d done the right thing when the short one duly obliged under Aiden Coleman for Martin Keighley.
The second race on the card was sponsored by one of the top PR and marketing companies in the gaming industry – the squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase. With a sponsor on side you’d have to hope that natural justice would prevail and the jolly wouldn’t win. Someone who bets with the office evidently didn’t agree and had £11,000 – £8,000 on market leader Sceau Royal with them on the telephone, that’s 08000 521 321. Though there was brisk business on course, there was nothing of that volume in evidence on the rails, at least in Star’s vicinity.
Over the last it looked as if the intrepid office punter might be rewarded but after an epic tussle up the hill it was finally Dan Skelton’s North Hill Harvey under Harry Skelton that prevailed. He had been backed from an early on-course 4/1 to 10/3 but the books would have been happy getting the short one beaten. Just after the race I bumped into author and punter Alan Potts, he’d backed the winner and is back betting on course again, look out bookies. I didn’t miss the opportunity to ask him if he’d be interviewed, he happily agreed, watch this space.
Kyle and Andrew betting for Star on the rail didn’t really expect the Brandon Hill Capital Handicap Hurdle to come alive given it was a hugely competitive 7/1 the field handicap. They were made to jump when a punter came in with £2,000 for a grand each-way on Golan Fortune at 20/1. £20,000 – £1,000 each-way was laid and the plucky plunging punter who evidently knew where to come for a decent bet went away with what he’d requested. It wasn’t ever going to be possible to bet up to that figure so at the off the lop-sided to the point of vertical book was closed and the best was hoped for.
Golan Fortune not in the frame was obviously not what the punter was hoping for but it ensured a winning race for us despite the fact winner Master Dancer was a popular 12/1 chance under Richard Johnson. There were very happy scenes post-race when it transpired the victorious beast was a landmark first Cheltenham winner for trainer Tim Vaughan.
Only five went to post for the Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Novices’ Chase, Fagan was sent off the fairly easy (6/4 to 13/8) favourite with Black Corton the well-backed 7/2 into 5/2 second favourite. Approaching two out it looked as if 7/1 chance Sizing Tennessee had them both beaten only to come down at that obstacle, to the groans of the layers for whom it would have been a great result. That fall left Black Corton to win under Bryony Frost for Paul Nicholls, though the combination had to survive clobbering the last themselves before victory was assured.
The Joel Dommett Here On 6th April Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase was a fairly quiet betting heat, though Star did lay a £2,000-£600 Presenting Julio and got it beaten. The winner, What Happens Now was an 8/1 chance but a ‘taker’ in the book so no real damage done.
That can’t be said about the penultimate Foundation Developments Ltd Maiden Hurdle. Kyle and Andy were tapping quietly away on the pitch when a punter came in for a bet of £5,000 – £6,000 Colin Tizzard’s Slate House. He was accommodated, then money started to pour in for the second favourite Dans Le Vent, 11/4 toppled into 9/4. That move resulted in a drift on the jolly out to 5/4 at the off. There was huge potential for hedging but the policy is not to so the money sat in the hod. Legendary bookmaker Dave Pipe father and grandfather of Martin and David respectively always used to say ‘You can’t eat value’ and of course he’s right but as Slate House powered up the hill to win any thoughts Kyle and Andrew on the joint might have had of a slap up meal on the firm after racing dissipated with every stride.
Having knocked out all of what had been won on the afternoon plus a nice few quid in one hit there was very little chance of getting it all back on the last. The last being the Experience The Theatre At The Festival Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. To quote an old pal of mine, there was very little of interest from the punting public in the race on course so little in the hod, a losing day ensured.
It was a shame that the firm couldn’t field much because that had have kept the lot in what was a eventful and dramatic race won by 33/1 chance Bobble Emerald (kept the race after a very late bing-bong from the stewards). At least the day ended on a winning note so all to play for tomorrow. Bring it on.
Simon Nott is author of Skint Mob!: Tales from the Betting Ring