Some of the huge losses were recouped on the final day at Cheltenham, after defeat for Apples Shakira kick-started a “much-needed winning day” for the bookmakers.
Starting out on day four, the bookmakers were estimated to be £100 million down after a succession of short price favourites, many of them Irish, romped to victory at the Festival.
Stephen Harris, racing guru at bettingexpert, said: “Gold Cup day began with the bookmaking industry on the wrong side of a £100 million beating, and on-course layers running around the local Gloucestershire cash points to whip up a float for the final battle.
“The card looked very competitive and there was a short-priced favourite to get stuck into in the opening Triumph Hurdle in Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten filly Apples Shakira.
“She was a 3/1 chance a week ago, 2/1 last night, 6/4 by noon and hammered down to 6/5 by the off (the biggest public gamble of the entire NH season so far).”
However, Apples Shakira’s struggle to a fourth-place finish gave the layers a real chance of getting out of the week, with Gordon Elliot’s Farclas (8/1) winning to the “wholesale relief of the ring”.
Following this, the Dan Skelton-trained Mohaayed (33/1) provided a further tonic in the County Hurdle, a rare highlight for English trainers, as the recovery mission gathered pace.
Defeat for the highly fancied Santini was the next feather in the bookmakers’ cap, as Kilbricken Storm (33/1) started a golden hour for the Colin Tizzard stable.
“Santini was a well backed 11/4f for the Albert Bartlett (from 9/2 in the morning), but he was never going well and could only plug on late behind another huge price winner in Kilbricken Storm,” said Harris. “The layers could smell blood now after three cracking results.”
The absence of a clear market favourite eased the pressure on the bookmakers going into the Gold Cup, the week’s blue-ribbon event, as Nicky Henderson looked to become the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup at one Cheltenham Festival meeting.
Harris said: “The Nicky Henderson-trained Might Bite and Native River were the two to attract the strongest cash, but there was a wide spread of public money in a very competitive looking field.”
As it happened, Native River made all the running to land the £625,000 first prize, completing a glorious Friday double for Tizzard and only a small loser for most of the books.
Harris concluded: “It was a much-needed winning day for the industry, particularly on-course who have huge expenses to bet here and rely on the four-days for their year-round viability.”