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Cheltenham: Bookies in front at 'half-time'

Bookmakers declared themselves to be in front at the halfway point of the Cheltenham Festival after two more short-priced favourites suffered defeat on Wednesday.

Teaforthree and Simonsig had got punters off to a good start when triumphing in the first two contests, but favourite-backers came unstuck as 6-5 jolly Grands Crus could finish only fourth in the RSA Chase.

They were then dealt a further blow when defending champion Sizing Europe, was sent off at 4-5, was edged out by Finian's Rainbow in the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The well-supported Vendor was later turned over in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle while defeat for New Year's Eve in the closing Weatherbys Champion Bumper completed a miserable finish on day two for punters.

Paddy Power said: "The first two winning favourites today destroyed yesterday's gains but the unlikely double whammy of Grands Crus and Sizing Europe getting chinned turned the tide back in our favour and catapulted us ahead over the two days.

"Bookies are in front as we enjoy the half-time oranges, but that could all change tomorrow."

Coral also reported a good day's trade and pointed to the victory of 16-1 Son Of Flicka in the Coral Cup as another good result.

"Favourite backers got off to a great start with Teaforthree and Simonsig, but hopes of a hat-trick of wins for the hot-pots were dashed when Bobs Worth won the RSA, and our day went from good to better when the Henderson yard completed a big race double with Finian's Rainbow," said spokesman David Stevens.

"Son Of Flicka's win in our race was also welcomed, Vendor's defeat in the Fred Winter continued the layers' joy, and not even a Willie Mullins' Bumper winner could spoil our day."

Although one Ladbrokes punter won £200,000 after staking £80,000 at odds of 5-2 on Simonsig, the firm nevertheless hailed an "exceptional" day.

Spokesman David Williams said: "The sun shone on the bookies at Cheltenham. After a wobbly start we steadied to see the big guns beaten and we ended the day out in front.

"It's far too early to start crowing but we'll head into the third day with the bit between our teeth.

"It's been an exceptional day."

William Hill reported a strong trade on the second day of the Festival and spokeswoman Kate Miller also believes the layers hold the whip hand going into day three.

"It looked a photo finish after Tuesday's results, but today we've definitely surged a good length or two clear," she said.

"Punters marched into Cheltenham armed with a vicious-looking arsenal of fancies, but we've held off the attack and emerged unscathed so far!"

Betfred spokesman George Primarolo admits the firm thought they were in for a rough day after the first two races.

He said: "We feared the worst after the first two favourites went in but results were much kinder after that and the layers are definitely on the front foot at the halfway stage."

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