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Punters find relief in week of torture

When Ruby Walsh brought in Big Buck's yesterday for the World Hurdle title and that of the first odds-on favourite to come home in two and half days of betting ring attrition, he was wearing the colours of his owners, the black, white and red of the Stewart family, rather than merely the red and white of the Red Cross. But there was really no doubt about it.

He was riding for humanity. You could have heard the roar at the other end of the Cotswolds. Someone was saying here the other day that the betting is, when the tents finally fold after four days of ferocious action, in some ways is beside the point.

However, someone here might as well have been smoking funny cigarettes when asserting that the real point of it all is to remind yourself that you were still alive.

Wally Pyrah, now a betting consultant for Racing Post after several decades working for leading bookmakers, spent some time reaching for the right word to describe the slaughter.

“Well,” he said, “I suppose there is only one word for it. It is bloodbath.”

Even the great JP McManus has been able to deliver only flesh wounds as bookmaking profits, assuming a last day today mostly triumphant for outsiders, soar beyond an estimated £600m mark. Most of McManus' winnings came from anti-post betting when his Champion Hurdle winner Binocular was a prohibitive favourite. The other day the man from Limerick issued the philosophical profundity that the real addiction wasn't betting but winning. These last few days it has been about as easy to acquire as a fascination for plane spotting.

“I've been coming here for the best of 30 years,” said Pyrah, “I can't believe it has ever been so tough. If Big Buck's had gone down it would have been easy to imagine a mass exodus.”

Right up to Walsh's necessarily energetic effort to hold off the challenge from 16-1 shot Time for Rupert there had been scarcely a hint of a hats-in-the-air moment.

Mike Dillon of Ladbrokes gave the blood-letting a certain philosophical perspective. “We have to remember that before every meeting the question is whether the jockeys and the trainers and the horses and the punters will get the trip. Let's face it, the bookmakers always get the trip. Yes, it hasn’t turned out well for the punters but there is another day to go, and, certainly, Kauto Star can bring a little life to the punters.”

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