CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL TUESDAY: SIMON NOTT reports from the Star Sports pitch at the Cheltenham Festival. After a fraught build-up with Coronavirus concerns, the talking finally stopped at 1.30pm – how did the opening day shape up for backers and layers ?
The day started off badly for the firm when boss Ben was declared a late non-runner after needing some emergency dental surgery. Star’s MD Russ Candler jumped into Ben’s Cheaney shoes to look the punters in the eye on the main Tatts pitch number 3 in the ring.
It’s the first time that officials from the racecourse came around dishing out latex gloves to bookmakers, to help stop the spead of the Coronavirus of course. They were actually quite handy for gripping the new notes according to Steph (pictured). The punters didn’t appear shy virus or no virus. The most popular horse bet early was £4000 and £3000 Carefully Selected in the last at 6/4 and 11/8 respectively.
I soon realised that I’d made a rick wearing my trilby. I spent a fair part of the morning chasing it around the racecourse, it making an excellent glider in the prevailing wind conditions.
1:30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Betting on the first itself was brisk but by no means lumpy. One of my old bosses always used to declare that ‘there’s nobody here, you could fire shots and not hit a punter’ – he was always wrong of course, but for the first hour it was a bit like it. Then a punter came in for £3000 at 10/3 Asterion Forlonge then right in the hole a commission agent with £50,000 – £6000 Chantry House, that’s 8/1 with the fractions, come racing. Then they were off, the roar followed by a groan, false start, but off well enough from the standing start.
What a race to kick off with, Shishkin getting the nod in a photo. A winning race putting to bed the demons of laying a £120,000 – £20,000 the first winner last year.
2:10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Between races Lee Mottershead came down to ask about the drift on Shishkin, the only explanation we could offer was support for other horses. Next up, going into the second Notebook was already a bad loser in the ante-post book but in the live betting there was money for plenty of horses.
Just before the second false start in two races, the office called they laid £75,000 at 7/2 Fakir D’Oudairies.
At the off, the on-course book had three losers Brewin’upastorm the worst, Fakir D’Oudairies and Notebook.
Put The Kettle On winning at 16/1 was a fantastic result for the ring.
2:50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
The first big handicap of the meeting was a case of head down, fill the hod and let the punters make the book for you.
The biggest bets on the race were £5,000 – £350 each-way Cepage and £5500 – £1000 Vinndication, the latter losing £10,000 at the off in a low staking but busy betting race.
Despite being one of the market leaders at 15/2 The Conditional was a good winner in the book. As said earlier the punters make your book, what do they know! Is that tempting fate?
3:30 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)
Next up, the big race of the day and where I’m I? Behind a bloke with a top knot in a very long queue sent to purchase a caramel latte amongst other beverages. My first Festival was nearly thirty years ago and I’ve risen to tea boy!
Our William came to the joint, looking for Amy, who was on the other joint. Such a disappointment for the lad.
Back on the pitch after knocking out a tenner in cold blood, the firm had been busy, laying £1500, £700 and £500 on Epatante.
With the jolly losing almost £9000 in the book, a well-known (to us) commission agent came to within striking distance of the joint. Eyes darting from his phone to us and back again it looked as if he’d be doing some business. If he did it would be pretty certain his bet would dwarf what the book already held. Then, for whatever reason, he wandered off again, nothing done. Nothing doing out on the turf either, a groan went up with another false start, but they were soon on their way second time around. Epatante a loser for just over £9000.
As the jolly and one of the bankers of the meeting Epatante quickened clear up the hill in the process of ruining a day which had been going so well. Lofty’s mate Clare came to the joint to roar it home, including a little dance and pirouette. Lofty can’t be blamed, he was down on the bottom rail. On the bright side, had the commission agent had a bet things would have looked a whole lot worse.
4:10 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
As often is the way, business slowed after the feature race. The modest staking punters weren’t keen on betting odds-on Benie Des Dieux, though Honeysuckle each-way at 11/4 was a popular accountants bet.
Sadly, the gloves handed out prior to racing weren’t quite up for a whole day fielding money as the Festival. Still, Steph was still smiling.
The same can’t be said for the old boys down on the bottom rail. Busy obviously makes them grumpy. It’s saying something when Lofty can be picked out as most cheerful of the lot, mind you, he is the youngest, just.
At the off no big-hitting odds-on punters had troubled us. Everything else had been backed each-way ‘We could do with the jolly placed, ideally second’ was Flynn’s summing up.
Flynn got his wish, Honeysuckle out-battled the jolly to win in the on-course book backed from 11/4 into 9/4. The team at Cheltenham’s cheers were stifled when news from the office came through that the winner had been by far their worst losing over £100k, the jolly a winner. You never can tell in this game. Mind you some those clever punters who were on Honeysuckle each-way looked gloomier than Lofty!
Not as gloomy as Flynn though after a ‘refreshed’ punter refused credit despite being in his words ‘a loyal customer’ stole his Peaky Blinders cap while he was betting on the penultimate.
4:50 Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed)
60,664 people were on course today but it didn’t seem if many of them were interested in betting on the penultimate.
Not at the main pitch anyway, Lofty text up to Flynn warning they ‘might need more readies’ having laid a cash bet of £16,000 – £4000 Imperial Aura.
At the off Galvin was the loser in the Tatts book for over £8000 with the jolly for about half that.
What can you say, it was a disaster Imperial Aura the absolute bogie across the firm, cheered home by Clare again!
There was a queue of lucky winners back to the steppings to pay before even getting to work on the last, I daren’t tempt fate by pre-fixing it ‘lucky’.
5:30 National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2)
Thanks to the bets laid during the first race the jolly was already showing red for £9998 then a punter came in for £60,000 -£50,000 Carefully Selected.
There was no betting up to that, it was just wait until the field ran 3m 5f around Cheltenham before knowing if the firm had got out on the day or plunged deeper into the financial mire.
Lofty was the first to say it; ‘He’s given this one too much to do’ then bellowed; ‘Come on the Cod Father, do us a favour!’ Jamie Codd indeed did do us, and the rest of the ring a favour winning on 12/1 Ravenhill. The £50,000 stayed in the bag, the on-course book was saved. Bring on Wednesday.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring