Bookies in fear of rich pickings at the Festival

Jockey Ruby Walsh aboard Min.
Jockey Ruby Walsh aboard Min.
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Banker Rich Ricci is the owner bookmakers fear could help empty their coffers during the Cheltenham Festival.

The former Barclays man, turned leading owner, holds four aces on Tuesday’s opening card with Min, Douvan, Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag.

Ladbrokes believes the foursome, representing Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins, will form the most popular accumulator bet of the week.

Min is 2-1 market leader to kick-start punters’ investment by taking the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Douvan is red hot at around 2-5 for the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy. All eyes will then be on Annie Power, who is a warm order at 2-1 for the Stan James Champion Hurdle as she tries to make amends for her last flight fall in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle which destroyed the four-timer 12 months ago.

Should she redeem herself then it will be up to Vroum Vroum Mag, who is around even money, to take the latter prize and complete the four-timer.

“Ricci will become the most popular banker in history if he lands a record-breaking bonus for punters on the opening day,” said Ladbrokes’ David Williams.

“Last year we were staring at a £50 million loss on day one before Annie Power’s unbelievable fall at the last hurdle. It was the most expensive fall in Festival history.

“This year it could be every bit as bad. If we find ourselves 3-0 down heading into Vroum Vroum Mag’s race the bookies will be white as ghosts.

“If Ricci is grinning, we’re sure to be suffering.”

Those thoughts are echoed by Coral, which is offering evens Mullins has three or more winners on Tuesday.

“Bookmakers have been facing this opening day salvo from Willie Mullins all winter, and even without Faugheen and Arctic Fire, the Irish champion can send out four hot favourites on Tuesday, with the quartet likely to feature in vast numbers of accumulators,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

“Twelve months ago we were spared when Annie Power fell at the last, and it’s quite remarkable that her trainer is back with four strong chances in the same four championship contests, kicking off the biggest betting week of the year in style.”

The layers are also fearful of Friday, the last of the four days in which the public eye will be on Victoria Pendleton as much as on the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.