Racing: Bookmakers windy about Blowing

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PUNTERS are often dubious about just how much money the bookies have taken when a horse shortens in an ante-post list, but the whole process reached its logical - if somewhat bizarre - conclusion yesterday when the odds against a runner in Saturday's Imperial Cup at Sandown were cut almost in half, even though the bookmaker in question had not laid a single penny for it.

The horse in question was Blowing Wind, trained by Martin Pipe, who was an 8-1 chance in the first list issued by William Hill yesterday, with the book due to open this morning. On a subsequent press release, it even seemed that he had drifted out to 10-1, but by yesterday evening, he was down to 9-2, after the firm's odds-setters had a long second look at the race. Coral cut Blowing Wind to 4-1 yesterday after after initially quoting him at 6-1.

Punters may complain that if a firm takes a view, it should stand by it and lay it, if only for five minutes, although it is hard to see how Hills ever came up with their original price. Pipe's record in the Imperial Cup is outstanding, and he is also the only trainer to have claimed the pounds 50,000 bonus put up by Sunderlands, the race sponsors, every year for a horse which can win the Imperial and then any race at the Cheltenham Festival the following week.

Blowing Wind is clearly being targeted at the same lucrative double, and will be ridden by Tony McCoy, the champion jockey. The best price against Blowing Wind this morning is 7-1 with the Tote, but that too is unlikely to survive the first frantic seconds of trading.

Pipe will also go to the Festival with a predictably strong team - one of his horses, Tamarindo, is entered in no fewer than eight of the meeting's 20 races, and would no doubt be in the other 12 if he were qualified. In the Gold Cup, a race which has so far eluded him, he will be represented by Cyborgo and Challenger Du Luc, but the strength of the challenge facing his runners increased yesterday when it was confirmed that Suny Bay, the Hennessy Gold Cup winner, will take his place in the field a week tomorrow.

Charlie Brooks, his trainer, will also be two-handed, with Couldnt Be Better, who was third behind Imperial Call two seasons ago, also expected to take part following a useful piece of work with Suny Bay on Monday. Suny Bay is best priced at 11-1 for the Gold Cup with William Hill, while Couldnt Be Better is among the outsiders at 66-1.

At the other end of the market, See More Business and Dorans Pride are disputing favouritism, although if the Irish runners - particularly Istabraq and Florida Pearl - go well on the first two days of the meeting, Dorans Pride will surely start favourite as bookmakers with multiple-bet liabilities try to reduce their potential loss.

The renewed strength of the Irish challenge is clear from the prices offered about the total number of winners the visitors will have. Ladbrokes issued their list yesterday, and make either four or five winners their favourite, at 5-1. No winners at all is reckoned a 50-1 chance, while the Irish bookie Sean Graham is even more bullish, at 66-1 about a blank.

Another Gold Cup candidate, The Grey Monk, was also the subject of encouraging reports yesterday, although it is still not certain that Gordon Richards's chaser will shake off the effects of a virus in time to line up for the race.

"He's schooled over three fences this morning and done three little bits of work," Nicky Richards, the trainer's son, said, "but whether he gets to Cheltenham or not is still another matter." Punters will thus be wary of taking the 10-1 against The Grey Monk which is offered by Ladbrokes.