Cheltenham: Line-up of favourites leave bookies dreading big day one payout

Honeysuckle and Willie Mullins pair Appreciate It and Concertista seen as hard to beat

Bookmakers reckon they've got enough on their side to prevent a day one festival bonanza for punters at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

A series of short-priced favourites, including the hugely popular Honeysuckle in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, present a potential nightmare accumulator scenario for layers.

The Willie Mullins pair Appreciate It (Skybet Supreme Novices Hurdle) and Concertista (Close Bros Mares Hurdle) are also widely anticipated to be difficult to beat, as is the English star Shishkin in the Sporting Life Arkle.

It contains echoes of the infamous festival opening day in 2015 when Annie Power’s final-flight fall prevented an estimated £50 million payout for bookmakers.


Earlier wins for Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle left Ruby Walsh looking all but certain to complete a four-timer of Willie Mullins-trained favourites, only for fate to intervene.

One layer described the spill in terms of dodging the most expensive bullet they had ever faced.

This time the market leaders aren’t concentrated into a single team, and Mullins might even come to the bookies’ rescue.


His Energumene is rated the biggest threat to Shishkin while Sharjah is one of three Mullins hopefuls left in the Champion Hurdle after Wednesday's confirmation stage.

“Although on paper there are a host of warm favourites for Tuesday’s race, Shishkin faces a top-class rival in Energumene. Honeysuckle surely faces her toughest task to date against Epatante and Goshen.

"Annie Power and Benie Des Dieux were both beaten at short prices in the mares hurdle, which will give us hope when Concertista lines up.

“That said, these horses are sure to feature in plenty of day one multiples, so we wouldn’t really want to see Appreciate It get the ball rolling in the Supreme.

“And we certainly don’t want Shishkin, Honeysuckle and Concertista to oblige as well,” said one bookmaker spokesman.

Denise Foster, who has taken over the training of Gordon Elliott's entries following the withdrawal of his licence for at least six months, has 14 possible starters on the first day of the festival.

They include Gigginstown Stud's Abacadabras in the Champion Hurdle where he may be joined by his stable companion Petit Mouchoir, now owned by Noel and Valerie Moran.

Escaria Ten has two entries on Tuesday and is among the market leaders for the Ultimata Handicap Chase.


He is also left in the National Hunt Chase which is an alternative option for the Gold Cup contender Royal Pagaille.

That marathon contest is the target for the ex-Elliott trained Galvin who has been moved by owner Ronnie Bartlett to the Ballymena-based trainer Ian Ferguson.

He was a festival winner a decade ago when Zemsky landed the 2011 Foxhunters Chase.

Rachael Blackmore is as low as 10-1 to be leading jockey next week, where Honeysuckle and A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup are among an enviable book of rides.

She can also look forward to being part of Willie Mullins’s festival riding arrangements but is keeping home fires burning on Thursday at Thurles.

Blackmore has two rides for Henry De Bromhead including Low Lie The Fields who bids for a hat-trick of wins in a handicap hurdle.

Viscount Gort is another hurdles spin for the in-form jockey, although the Gigginstown runner may find it tough against the jumping newcomer Enniskerry.

Barry Connell’s runner boasts some impressive bumper form behind Letsbeclearaboutit.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column