Bookies draw first blood
The bookies claimed the honours on day one of the Cheltenham Festival despite the Ruby Walsh-Willie Mullins partnership striking twice.
- Related Content
The layers must have feared the worst when Walsh brought home the Mullins-trained Vautour in the opening race, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
But relief came in the following event, the Racing Post Arkle, when Mullins' Champagne Fever was beaten a head by 33/1 outsider Western Warhorse, a result Sky Bet's Michael Shinners described as "massive".
That left the bookies celebrating and the joy for them continued when favourite Hurricane Fly finished only fourth in a Stan James Champion Hurdle won by 9/1 shot Jezki.
Not even victory for the meeting's only odds-on shot - Mullins' Quevega in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle - could spoil the party.
David Williams, of Ladbrokes, said: "When Champagne Fever was beaten in a photo finish the only cheers were from the bookies on the rails. Western Warhorse was an absolute skinner.
"Jezki didn't read the romantic script in the big one and Hurricane Fly fans were thwarted. The Irish smashed into him but it wasn't to be and Jezki rode to our rescue.
"All in all we can't complain too much and although we've got an awful long way to go we're heading into day two without too many bruises."
Kate Miller, spokeswoman for William Hill, added: "Turnover levels for William Hill were outstanding today, and results made us very happy bookmakers indeed. It's definitely a marathon, rather than a sprint, but we head into the tricky second day with a generous cushion beneath us.''
The opening-day profits were a far cry from the bloodbath 12 months ago, as Betfred's Andrew Griffiths pointed out.
"The bookies were in dire straits after day one a year ago, but this time around we're sitting pretty. Getting Hurricane Fly out of the frame was a huge result for us and we're unquestionably on the front foot going into day two."
In terms of the big offers which were flying around, the result of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle had Paddy Power and Sky Bet licking their wounds.
Power were hit by a double-whammy, saying their offer to hand cash back to those who backed the second, third and fourth-placed finishers (Josses Hill, Vaniteux and Sgt Reckless), plus the well-backed winner, cost them £5million.
It also proved a costly race for sponsors Sky Bet, who had vowed to refund, as free bets, all losing bets if the favourite won.
Likewise, Betfred handed free bets out after Quevega won a record-breaking sixth Mares' Hurdle.
However, Ladbrokes escaped after Hurricane Fly failed to make the first two in the Champion Hurdle.