‘That’s racing’, says Walsh, after last fence fall on Annie Power saves bookies £50m

THE luckless Annie Power’s final flight fall at the Cheltenham Festival is likely to be remembered as the most expensive in racing industry after sparing bookmakers from an estimated £50m payout.

COSTLY FALL: Annie Power ridden by Ruby Walsh falls after jumping the last fence during the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Those punters who backed top jockey Ruby Walsh, and trainer Willie Mullins, to win yesterday’s four top races with the heavily-backed Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Vautour and Annie Power were counting their winnings as the mare approached the last clear of her rivals. However, this shuddering mistake was greeted with deafening groans of despair by a record opening-day crowd of 63,249 spectators at the iconic Cotswolds track – the only cheers were ones of relief from the bookmakers who were bracing themselves for record losses comparable to those incurred when Frankie Dettori rode all seven winners at Ascot in 1996.

Jon Ivan-Duke, a spokesman for Leeds-based bookmakers William Hill, said up to 250,000 punters had staked money on the accumulator.

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He said: “This could have been the golden day for punters, who were already counting their winnings at the last ....bookmakers have well and truly dodged a bullet.”

Betfred spokesman Andrew Griffiths said: “The doomsday scenario almost came true.

“It’s still been a bad day at the office thanks to Douvan and co but we’ll happily take that.”

With the horse unscathed, a crestfallen Walsh – victorious 40 minutes earlier on Faugheen in the Stan James Champion Hurdle – tried to play down the fall’s significance. “That’s racing, that happens,” he said.

The only consolation for the aforementioned Mullins was that he still won the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle with the second-string Glens Melody as Ireland’s champion trainer completed a 62-1 four-timer as he tightened his grip further on National Hunt racing.

His stable’s runners won just under £600,000 yesterday – more than the total prize money which will be up for grabs in Friday’s blue riband Gold Cup.

Day one round-up: Page 21.