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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2004, 16:48 GMT
Bookies back with interest
By Sophie Brown
BBC Sport at Cheltenham

The punters are not having a good run of things this year
Punters are not having a good run of things this year
What a difference a day makes.

After the Festival's first race on Tuesday, the bookies must have felt that sinking feeling when well-backed favourite Brave Inca was cheered home by happy punters.

Thoughts went back to last year's meeting when 10 out of 20 favourites won and wreaked financial havoc.

Several on-course bookmakers went under after the damage incurred but last Tuesday most were back to recoup their losses of last year - and a favourite winning the first was the worst possible start.

One of the leading on-course layers, Freddie Williams, said that Brave Inca's victory had cost him 80,000.

But then the bookies' fortunes changed and no more favourites won for the rest of the day.

There are 226 bookmaker pitches at Cheltenham
40m is bet on course over the three-day meeting

An added bonus was that three of the five remaining winners were 50-1, 40-1 and 33-1, which saved the bookies having to pay out too heavily.

And after the first race on the second day, the boot was well and truly on the other foot.

Inglis Drever, the 7-2 favourite, had a real battle up the Cheltenham hill with Fundamentalist but was edged out to the dismay of the crowd and the delight of the bookies.

Just one favourite - and that was a joint-favourite - won on Wednesday.

So by the time the turf accountants were putting put down their umbrellas that evening, most were cheerfully contemplating a financially successful Festival.

The big high-street bookmakers were also happy - William Hill enjoyed record turnover on the first two days and estimates turnover will approach 300m over the meeting.

They did not even care that the odds-on Best Mate won or not as his prohibitive odds meant that many people had backed him as part of an accumulator along with the other reigning champions Rooster Booster, Moscow Flyer and Baracouda.

And that bet went down on the first day after Rooster Booster could only manage second in the Champion Hurdle.

"Best Mate winning was never a result we were worried about - we had laid plenty on his rivals each way as the punters looked for alternatives," said William Hill spokesman David Hood.

"Cheltenham has been the polar opposite of last year for us and we are going to Aintree and into the Flat season without being battered and bruised!"

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