Festival turnover 'to top £250m'
Bookmakers are predicting a turnover of more than £250million on this week's Cheltenham Festival, which starts on Tuesday.
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The four-day National Hunt bonanza traditionally provides the layers with their busiest week of the year and the 2014 renewal looks set to break more records.
Ladbrokes suggest the industry turnover will be north of £250million, suggesting the recent good weather will see punters' "confidence soar with the mercury".
Sky Bet are also expecting record turnover with the Festival seemingly generating more interest by the year.
Last year the punters enjoyed plenty of success with several hot favourites such as Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig and Quevega coming good.
However, this year there appear few 'bankers' with only one horse set to go off odds-on - the aforementioned Quevega, who will be seeking a sixth successive win in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle on the opening day.
After her, the next shortest-priced horses are 15/8 shots Annie Power and Bobs Worth - favourites for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup respectively.
David Williams, of Ladbrokes, said: "Punters got off to a flier on day one last year and finished the week with a flourish so they'll have very fond recent Festival memories.
"This time around it's got a very different feel. Only Quevega really falls into 'banker' territory as an odds-on favourite. We're a little less worried about potential Doomsday scenarios this year but we'll pack some painkillers just in case."
The World Hurdle (Thursday) and Gold Cup (Friday) are two of the four championship races at the Festival.
The others are the Stan James Champion Hurdle on Tuesday and the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday. The New One and Hurricane Fly (3/1) are joint favourites for the former, while Sire De Grugy (5/2) heads the latter market.
Sky Bet's Michael Shinners said: "The last couple of years have had a theme. Two years ago you had all the championship winners returning and looking to repeat. They were very short to do it again.
"Last year was a year for short-price fancies with Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig and Quevega all winning.
"This year there are no outstanding performers but Hurricane Fly, looking to win the Champion Hurdle for a third time, is back and sure to be popular.
"The World Hurdle betting is fascinating - you'll get the biggest price on (four-time winner) Big Buck's in 20 races, possibly 11/4 or 3/1 on track. He's up against Annie Power, who's won 10 out of 10. There's a massive story coming out of that one.
"On the final day, Bobs Worth will be popular for the Gold Cup. He's going for a fourth consecutive win at the Festival having won the Albert Bartlett, the RSA Chase and the Gold Cup last year.
"He's done Festival punters a favour in the past and if he goes in, along with Briar Hill (in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle) on the same day, it could be 'Bleak House' for us."
While odds-on shots are at a premium in the 27 races, they are plentiful in some of the key specials markets.
Willie Mullins is no bigger than 4/9 to claim top-trainer honours for the third time in four years, while the man who will be on board most of his top horses, Ruby Walsh, is also odds-on with most firms, although William Hill boosted his price to evens on Monday. Walsh has taken the jockey prize in seven of the last 10 years, including last season.
Tuesday's opening day will be a big day for both Mullins and Walsh and will have a serious effect on how the week pans out from a bookies v punters perspective, according to Sky Bet's Shinners.
"Willie Mullins will be pivotal to how Tuesday goes," he said. "He's got Vautour in the Sky Bet Supreme, Champagne Fever in the Arkle, Hurricane Fly in the Champion and Quevega is favourite for the Mares' Hurdle.
"Basically if Mullins has a day to remember, it will be a day to forget for bookmakers."