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Cheltenham Festival 2016: Bookmaker questions and answers

By Keith Hamer

Cheltenham Festival is the biggest race meeting of the year when bookmakers and punters go head-to-head over the four days. Stacks of money will change hands as the two sides back their views in hard currency.

Keith Hamer posed these questions to bookmakers' representatives David Williams, of Ladbrokes, and William Hill's Jon Ivan-Duke:

1. What is the mood of bookmakers going into the first day of Cheltenham?

(DW): "Half excitement, half terror. It is the biggest week of the whole year. It sets the pulse racing like no other week, but it is one week above all others that can make or break you."

(JI-D): "We are bullish. We think we can get some of Willie Mullins' horses beaten."

2. What is your biggest fear on day one?

(DW): "It is the Ruby Walsh, Rich Ricci, Willie Mullins four-fold - Min Douvan, Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag. If we end up at the mares' race as we did last year that does not bear thinking about. We had an act of god coming to our rescue last year with Annie Power (falling). We'd be desperate not to be in a position where we need a result in the mares' race. If we do, that would be a nightmare scenario."

(JI-D): "We fear Willie Mullins. He has an incredible chance of getting up the four-timer. Had Annie Power not fallen it would have cost us £8million alone last year. If all four go in this year you'd be thinking it would cost us a similar amount. It could be a catastrophic first day for bookmakers."

3. What favourites do you think are worth opposing that might you might get beaten?

(DW): "Min and Annie Power are the two I think bookmakers will try and get. If we can get them both beaten, it will be a very good day. If we can get one of those two beaten I think we might almost take it because day one is all about the accumulators. If Douvan stands up he wins, so too Vroum Vroum Mag. She's so far ahead of the rest."

(JI-D): "We look at Min and think he's vulnerable against the Nicky Henderson horses. I think it's the wrong trip for Annie Power. She's traditionally been better over further and there's no guarantee she's going to be pacy enough over two miles to beat the likes of The New One and My Tent Or Yours. We think Willie Mullins will have two winners but that we can get two beat - Min and Annie Power."

4. If results go against you, what bearing would that have on the rest of the meeting?

(DW): "If all four win it will be a long way back for bookmakers. You could almost have three decent days after that and you still might not make up the damage from the first day."

(JI-D): "If we have a bad first day then it will be difficult to recover. We'd need to have three significant winning days to get the money back if the Mullins' horses win on Tuesday. The first day is crucial and if Min gets beaten in the opener, bookmakers will be smiling."

5. How important is it in relation to the week as a whole?

(DW): "It is the most significant day of the four. If bookmakers somehow manage to have a good day on Tuesday, they will start getting more confident and taking on more favourites later in the week. If it all goes wrong, we will be really up against it."

(JI-D): "It sets the tone and if those four all go in we'll be chasing our tails for the rest of the week."

6. What is your first day banker?

(DW): "Personally I can't see how Vroum Vroum Mag will be beaten. I think it's a poor race and she is one of the few horses in there who is the opposite of poor. She is very good."

(JI-D): It's not an original selection, but I believe Douvan is a good thing in the Arkle. I think he's the best horse in training. It's very difficult to see him getting beat."

7. Which horse or race are you most looking forward to seeing the most this week?

(DW): "Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase because he's a horse that has electrified many people in recent years. I, like all racing folk, love a comeback story and this would be one of the greatest comebacks in National Hunt racing. If he was still there serving it up to Un De Sceaux on Wednesday two out I think that would a great moment. That would be sensational."

(JI-D): "I think the Gold Cup is going to be a cracker. It's a shame Coneygree isn't there but we've got some of the best horses we've seen for many years and it should be a classic. What a story it would be if Willie Mullins finally won the race, there's Cue Card going for the £1m bonus, Gordon Elliott has a top horse in Don Cossack, or can Hennessy winner Smad Place do a Denman? It looks a race to savour."

8. How much money will be bet at Cheltenham this week?

(DW): "I think £200m is a credible figure across the four days. The first day £60m. It will be quieter on Wednesday and Thursday, about £40m each, and then a big finish on Friday with the Gold Cup being the biggest day of the week and also a surge of interest in the Foxhunters."

(JI-D): "We think over the course of the week as much as £350m could be wagered across the industry. The biggest betting peak is the build-up to the Cheltenham Gold Cup when we will take 10,000 bets a minute. It's the biggest betting race after the Grand National."

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