Cheltenham Festival: Belfast bookies avoid £100m payout as shock fall spoils Ruby's Tuesday romp
Punters on verge of historic Cheltenham betting coup as jockey Walsh outjumps McCoy on day one of festival
On what will probably be forever known as Ruby's Tuesday, the shrieks of horror from the Lisburn Road punters were almost drowned out yesterday by the sighs of relief from the bookies' boss in his office above them.
It marked the start of Tony McCoy's last ever Cheltenham, which was hijacked by Kildare jockey Ruby Walsh - but not for all the right reasons.
Grown men were reduced to tears as their big hopes of big winnings crumbled when the Walsh's mount Annie Power crumpled beneath him just yards from the finishing line.
Making it over would have completed an unprecedented four major victories on the opening day of the festival - and cost UK bookies an estimated £100m.
The sensational collapse just after the last hurdle left the way open for Annie Power's stablemate, 6-1 shot Glens Melody, to win after one of the greatest shocks in horseracing since Foinavon finished the Grand National on its own in 1967.
Before yesterday's 4pm race at Cheltenham, Paul McLean had said that a fourth Walsh win of the day would be an 'apocalypse' for bookies across the UK.
And after the Walsh wobble, Mr McLean was the only man on the Lisburn Road with a winning smile, even though he had still lost money.
"Instead of a disastrous day, it will just be a bad day," he said. "The fact that Ruby Walsh and his trainer Willie Mullins won the first three Grade One races gave us a hard time.
"But the fall in the fourth means we live to fight another day. I can only thank all the gods I prayed to."
Downstairs, shell-shocked gamblers in McLean's packed premises had their faith in good fortune shaken to the core by the stunning fall.
Virtually to a man they had all backed Walsh in 20-1 accumulator bets to romp home on the favourites in the four races and there was little or no money on the Moneyglass record-breaker McCoy.
Student Patrick McAuley from west Belfast had already been thinking about what to do with his winnings after Walsh came home on Douvan, then Un De Sceaux and completed his hat-trick on Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle - beating McCoy in all their showdowns.
But Patrick could only mutter "awful, awful" after seeing his potential £300 McLean's clean-up go belly-up after Annie Power went down.
Thankfully horse and jockey were unhurt but Patrick and his friends were out the door of the bookie's faster than Frankel and more niftily than Nijinsky cursing their luck… and Ruby Walsh and Annie Power.
Well-known Belfast publican Eamon McCusker was toasting a small-time win but even he wasn't on McCoy.
He'd backed his hunch that while it would be Willie Mullins' day, one of the Irish trainer's favourites would come up short.
Eamon bet a fiver each way on Arctic Fire in the big race of the day and it finished second at 20-1 behind its Mullins' stablemate Faugheen.
"So I didn't go home empty-handed," he said.
In all the drama, the name of Tony McCoy barely featured as pragmatism took over from patriotism among the punters.
Student Martin Ramsey, who stood to win £150 if Walsh won his four races, hadn't backed McCoy to emerge victorious.
"I didn't fancy him to win in any of his outings today," he said.
"Besides he's cost me too much money in the past.
"I know it's his last Cheltenham but sentimentality didn't come into it."
However, Martin said he was convinced it was written in the stars that AP would end his glittering Cheltenham career with a victory in his last race there later this week.
Behind the counter at McLean's, manager David McColgan said that AP's farewell to Cheltenham had generated more interest than usual.
Business was up by four or five times on a normal day and extra staff had been recruited for the week of the festival.
Many housewives who don't normally gamble were wagering a pound or two on the local favourite.
"I had one lady in here this morning and she didn't know the names of any horses but she said that we should just put £20 on any of AP's mounts for her," said David.
He added that casual punters have also been backing McCoy to win the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and the Grand National at Aintree before he retires.
The odds are 100-1 - and knowing McCoy's knack of writing his own headlines, you wouldn't bet against him...