Memories of Cheltenham Festival 2003, a bad one for the bookies.


This was written for the local paper. My brief was they only wanted to know how the local horses got on at the Festival, hence the glaring omission of some notable races!

Cheltenham Festival 2003

At the Cheltenham the worm turned and the punters bit back at the bookies casting many on and off course firms into near financial oblivion. West Country horses played a major part in the agony for the books and euphoria for the backers starting with the second race of the festival. Azertyuiop trained by Paul Nicholls in Somerset was considered by many one of the bankers of the meeting to win the Arkle Challenge Trophy. The bookmakers who had paid five figure sums for the privilege of being able to bet at the festival were determined to stand up to the promised barrage of cash from the high rollers. The big-staking punters invariably rear their heads for the biggest three days in the National Hunt season one of whom placed a single wager of £40,000 to win £60,000. Irish Champion jockey Ruby Walsh only had to push out the 5/4f to win by 11lengths.

Martin Pipe saddled three for the Champion Hurdle including Westender who after a reluctant start finished 2nd at 33/1 behind Rooster Booster trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson. The winner was well-backed returning 9/2 after being offered at 6/1 early. Once again the big players were on including one single bet of £150,000 – £30,000. The Pipe yard’s loyal followers were richly rewarded when Royal Predica impressively won the Kym Muir at 33/1, a result that gave the bookies some sort of respite though was nibbled from 50/1. The champion trainer also saddled three other runners in the race of whom Montreal also finished in the money, 4th at 12/1. The yard saddled 8 runners in Tuesday’s finale the Pertemps Final but the best his string could manage was 4th with Ravenswood.

Wednesday dawned with hope springing eternal with the bookies hoping to get their hefty losses back and more bankers for the punters to get stuck into. The Royal and Sun Alliance went to the West Country courtesy of One Night trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson in a thrilling finish to win by 1-½ lengths from Jair Du Cochet. The winner was the subject of a spectacular bet of £225,000 – £25,000. Cenkos, trained by Paul Nicholls finished third for the region in the Queen Mother Champion Chase behind favourite Moscow Flyer. Samon (Pipe) and Spectrometer (Hobbs) finished second and third respectively in the Coral Cup behind monster gamble Xenophon. Martin Pipe had saddled no fewer than nine runners for the race. His supposed banker of the meeting 7/4f Stormez had to settle for 2nd behind Sudden Shock in the Challenge Cup with Victor Dartnall’s Young Ottoman in third. Tony McCoy proved his weight in gold, literally, well almost, in the concluding Bumper for at least for one punter who struck a massive £300,000 – £100,000 on Liberman when driving home the eventual 2/1 winner for Martin Pipe. Phillip Hobbs’ Widemouth Bay was third at 33/1 and would have been a dream result for the layers.

Gold Cup Day started with a narrow defeat for the region’s horses Martin Pipe and AP McCoy’s Well Chief  was caught within the shadow of the post in the Triumph Hurdle. Valley Henry ran a creditable 4th in the Gold Cup behind popular winner Best Mate. Tiverton’s favourite racehorse ran in the Foxhunters, Mary Sanderson’s Jabiru was a 33/1 outsider but ran a very respectable 9th of 24 behind yet another well-backed winning favourite Kingscliffe, Jabiru’s mere presence in the line-up was a credit to the trainer. Paul Nicholls’ Earthmover finished 4th. There was no luck for local horses in the remaining races, Tony McCoy suffered a serious fall on Golden Alfa in the Grand Annual and was replaced in the Cathcart on Tarxien by Roddi Green who also came to grief.

The 10 winning favourites made the meeting a bloodbath for the layers. One local bookmaker, Ivor Perry who bets on the Tatterstalls front row was philosophical when questioned on how he had done, ‘Well all I can say is that today would be a good day to get mugged’ he quipped with half a wry smile!

© Simon Nott

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