Bookmakers hoping to avoid major damage of first day of Festival bonanza

Mon 12 Mar 2018

Bookmakers feel there is enough in their favour to suggest they will avoid a massive payout on an always-tricky opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

In a week that could see as much as £300 million bet across the industry by optimistic punters, there are four short-priced favourites on the first afternoon - and the layers are clinging to the hope that one of them will fall short.

Favourite-backers will look to get the best possible start with Getabird in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Footpad in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase.

But bookmakers rate the pair, representing the formidable team of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, as far from being certainties. The other two hotpots, Buveur D'Air in the Unibet Champion Hurdle and Apple's Jade in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, are seen more like good things.

"The obvious starting point is the four short-priced favourites, which has been a feature of recent Festivals," said David Stevens of Coral.

"On their own, we don't fear them as they are short enough, but punters will put them in doubles, trebles, four-folds and even later in the week with the likes of Samcro.

"As always in these situations, we'd just take one of them to lose tomorrow.

"There's enough reason to think so, particularly in the Supreme - the ground is going to come up pretty testing, which is unusual for the Festival, and it's a big field.

"It's the same in the Arkle. I know it's a small field, but there a couple of strong contenders against the favourite.

"We wouldn't be looking to run away from them. Perhaps Buveur D'Air and Apple's Jade less so. They look pretty bombproof. I think there's enough question marks against the first two."

As for the rest of the week, Stevens believes the state of the ground will have a big bearing on results.

"The big factor this year will be the ground and how much more rain we get," he said.

"Punters will look for soft-ground horses. Generally, when the going goes more testing, the results tend to be more predictable and it isn't going to suit horses like Altior, if he is fit enough to run, later in the week, and it probably isn't going to suit Might Bite.

"I could see Native River starting favourite in the Gold Cup. If it came up soft or heavy on Friday, I think Might Bite would be by no means certain to start favourite.

"You plan all winter and expect it to be good to soft ground, but all this rain has put a spanner in the works."

Ladbrokes are wary of the Walsh factor on Tuesday, not just with Getabird and Footpad but with another Mullins inmate, Faugheen, in the mix.

Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes said: "Walsh has the ability to make or break our week and shape our entire year.

"We've known some costly Ruby Tuesdays at Cheltenham in the past but a successful treble will be the most expensive yet.

"We are expecting Getabird and Footpad to win, but Faugheen looks the weakest link in the treble and could do us a big favour."

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