Racing: Cashman's style is an open book

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Bookmakers, they call themselves, those familiar chains with the prime High Street locations and carefully matched corporate colours. But just you try walking into your local Big Three betting shop this morning and placing a bet on the Stayers' Hurdle, the Royal Sun Alliance Chase or the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. All three are prestigious events, and the Cheltenham Festival is less than six weeks' distant. British punters who want prices, however, will be waiting for at least another month.

Not so their Irish counterparts. Incredible as it may seem to anyone familiar with the nervous attitude prevailing on this side of the water, at least one Irish bookie has been offering odds on all these Festival races - and plenty of others besides - since October. But then, Liam Cashman is a proper bookmaker, one of a declining breed whose passion for racing is every bit as strong as his desire to show a profit. "It is about differing opinions," he says. "It is about quoting prices, laying those prices and then endeavouring to make a book as best you can thereafter. What people ask for, they get."

Cashman's ante-post betting on the Festival - apart from the constantly open books on the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle - starts in September, with an offer of 33-1 the field for the Triumph Hurdle. A month later, the Champion Chase and the four novice events join the list, along with the Bumper. Now, he is quoting prices on all 13 non-handicap races, including the Cathcart and the four-mile National Hunt Chase for amateur riders. The handicaps will follow the instant that the weights are published. "It involves a tremendous amount of research," he says, "but we get tremendous interest in return. People will even be ringing up for prices about horses which aren't listed, and we'll always quote them a price."

Since the National Lottery arrived and revoked their licence to print money, it has not been difficult to find British bookmakers who nurse deep concerns about the future of their profession. Cashman shares their concern, but it is changing attitudes, rather than unfair competition, which disturbs him.

"It's going more and more towards bingo," he says. "In England now you have betting on the Irish Lottery, betting on 49s, slot machines and BAGS dogs, which is basically more bingo. You ask 1,000 people coming out of a betting office to name just one dog out of the 150 running that afternoon, and you won't get an answer. It should be about horses or individuals, tennis players or snooker players or football teams, things with personalities, not just numbers. That's the way we operate, and if we ever can't, we might as well close the doors."

Not for Cashman, either, the widespread reluctance to lay a serious bet. He has already taken pounds 3,000 each-way at 33-1 on Graphic Equaliser for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and the five-year-old, who made a promising debut when third to I'm Supposin', a Champion Hurdle candidate, last weekend, is now 12-1. Other good business has centred on the Festival Bumper, a favourite with Irish backers but a contest which few bookies would dream of pricing up at such an early stage. Florida Pearl and Arctic Camper are the horses which, according to the field book, will be the ones to beat on 12 March.

All three horses are trained in Ireland, but Cashman feels that last year's near-record haul of seven Irish winners is unlikely to be matched this time around. "I don't see the Irish having the strength in depth that they had last year," he says. "Four or five winners would be my favourite this time, then three, then two, and then six."

Whatever your Festival fancy, Cashman has a price to go with it, though British punters will need to cross the water to take advantage. It might be wise to do so before genuine bookmakers like Cashman join fletchers and coopers as quaint footnotes in the occupational history books.

CASHMAN'S CHELTENHAM BETTING:

Supreme Novices' Hurdle: 6-1 Boardroom Shuffle, 7-1 Make A Stand, 8-1 Finnegans Hollow, 9-1 Alzulu, Donnington, 11-1 others.

Arkle Chase: 7-2 Mulligan, 6-1 Celibate, 8-1 Sparky Gayle, Or Royal, 9-1 Jathib, 12-1 Corket, Mandy's Mantino, 16-1 others.

Champion Hurdle: 7-2 Collier Bay, 9-2 Large Action, 7-1 Space Trucker, 12-1 I'm Supposin', 14-1 Dato Star, 20-1 others.

Royal Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle: 3-1 Istabraq, 10-1 Aerion, Mighty Moss, Noble Thyne, 12-1 Jack Tanner, 14-1 others.

Queen Mother Champion Chase: 7-2 Viking Flagship, 4-1 Klairon Davis, 9-2 Sound Man, 5-1 Ask Tom, 10-1 Martha's Son, 14-1 others.

National Hunt Chase: 5-1 Credo Is King, 7-1 Dromhana, Irish Light, 9- 1 Flimsy Truth, 10-1 Dixon Warner, Flaked Oats, Side Of Hill, 14-1 Well Timed, 20-1 others.

Royal Sun Alliance Novices' Chase: 11-2 Cyborgo, See More Business, 9- 1 Ultra Flutter, 10-1 Santa Concerto, 14-1 others.

Festival Bumper: 11-2 Florida Pearl, French Holly, 7-1 Arctic Camper, Colour Code, 10-1 Fawn Prince, Mr Lurpak, 14-1 others.

Triumph Hurdle: 10-1 Shooting Light, 12-1 Summer Spell, 14-1 White Sea, 16-1 Pomme Secret, 20-1 others.

Stayers' Hurdle: 2-1 Large Action, 6-1 Urubande, 7-1 Ocean Hawk, 10-1 Moonax, 12-1 Better Times Ahead, Karshi, Putty Road, 14-1 What A Question, 16-1 others.

Gold Cup: 3-1 Imperial Call, 9-1 Coome Hill, Dublin Flyer, 11-1 Dorans Pride, 12-1 Addinton Boy, One Man, 14-1 others

Foxhunters' Chase: 7-2 Fantus, 11-2 Master Kit, What A Hand, 6-1 Jig Time, 10-1 others.

Cathcart Chase: 7-2 Simply Dashing: 11-2 Around The Gale, 7-1 Potters Bay, 8-1 Feel The Power, 9-1 others

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