Punters fight back on day two
Day two of the Cheltenham Festival belonged to the punters as the 'Irish banker' and the big-race favourite both obliged.
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William Hill dubbed it 'Black Wednesday' as the bookies were hurt after enjoying a strong start to the four-day meeting on Tuesday.
Faugheen went into the opening Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle with a tall reputation and a suitably short starting price, but those who'd made him their banker of the week seldom had cause for concern as he came home in splendid isolation for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
Sent off the 6/4 favourite, victory for the six-year-old was bad news for bookmakers across the industry and particularly Sky Bet, who are refunding losing bets if the favourite wins the opening race on every day of the Festival.
The offer saw them refund on day one when Vautour won and, in the same colours of owner Susannah Ricci, Faugheen produced a virtually identical display of superiority.
"Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins took the opener for the second consecutive day as Faugheen surged clear of his rivals in the Neptune," said Stan James spokesman Rory Jiwani.
"That was a bad result for the bookies and a terrible result for us with one punter placing £57,000 on him at 7/4."
Most firms escaped unscathed from the RSA Chase, which went the way of O'Faolains Boy for Rebecca Curtis, while Whisper held off the challenge of the well-backed Get Me Out Of Here in the Coral Cup in a result which helped bookmakers undo some of the damage done in the opener.
However, any doubts as to who would end the day on top were expunged when 11/4 favourite Sire De Grugy dispelled concerns over Cheltenham's suitability with an impressive six-length success in the feature race, the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Ladbrokes' David Williams said: "Sire De Grugy was seriously gruesome for us. As the sun came out at the races it shone on the punters. We've been clobbered by the Moore team and our good cheer on day one has all but evaporated."
The margin of victory was particularly significant for those to have backed Gary Moore's horse with Betfred, who promised to double the starting price of Sire De Grugy should he win by more than four lengths - that meant punters were paid out at 11/2 instead of an SP of 11/4.
Betfred spokesman Andrew Griffiths said: "It was only a matter of time before our double the odds offer copped. SP backers hardly had a moment's worry with Sire De Grugy and they will be delighted when they get paid out at 11/2."
The betting for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase revolved around two horses and while eventual favourite Big Shu could only finish third, well-backed 4/1 chance Balthazar King won the race for the second time after a photo-finish was needed to separate him from runner-up Any Currency.
Again, the Philip Hobbs-trained horse was a popular selection among the punters and represented Sky Bet's worst result in the book, so they were delighted to see 33/1 chance Hawk High hold off the better-fancied Katgary in a dramatic renewal of the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Similarly, Dermot Weld's 16/1 chance Silver Concorde came to the rescue in the Champion Bumper, holding off the challenge of the well-backed 7/2 favourite Shaneshill.
"Once again, it was backs against the wall stuff for us after a Willie Mullins-trained shoo-in won the first, triggering our money-back offer," said Sky Bet's Michael Shinners.
"After that it was always going to be a difficult day but it got worse when Sire De Grugy won the feature and plenty of our punters played up their winnings on Balthazar King in the Cross Country.
"We'll be keeping an extra close eye on the head of the market for Thursday's opener, the JLT, but roll on another day of battle."
William Hill labelled day two 'Black Wednesday' having refunded bets on all second-placed horses which were placed via a mobile device, an offer which cost them with popular runners-up in both the afternoon's handicap hurdles.
Kate Miller, spokeswoman for William Hill, commented: "It all began so well. It looked a tough day for punters, but they rallied back on day two.
"We were off the bridle immediately with Faugheen's victory and never got in the race after that. Business levels are exceptional, but sadly, it's a score draw after day two."
The outcome of Thursday's battle may well depend on the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and more specifically the performance of Annie Power, who again represents the Mullins-Walsh-Ricci combination and looks set to go off a popular favourite.