There was no obvious sign of a smug smile from the bookmakers yesterday when they opened betting on one of the major handicaps at next month's Cheltenham Festival. But a certain amount of self-satisfaction would have been justified by their fond memories of Joes Edge delivering a big pay-day when swooping late to win the William Hill Trophy at odds of 50-1.
This time around the Welsh National and Red Square Gold Cup winner Miko De Beauchene heads the sponsor's ante-post betting at 9-1 for the three-mile event on the Festival's opening day, Tuesday 11 March. Leading Grand National fancy Cloudy Lane and Irish-trained Royal County Star jointly occupy 10-1 second-favouritism.
Kate Miller, spokeswoman for Hills, said yesterday: "The 2008 renewal of the William Hill Trophy looks set to be another cracker. Last year's race produced one of the finishes of the Festival when Joes Edge, Juveigneur, and Distant Thunder had one of the battles of all time up the hill, and were split by just two short-heads. After his performance last weekend, we feel Miko De Beauchene thoroughly deserves to head the betting but, as the entries show, there will be many using our race as a prep run for the National."
Hills have also opened betting on the following day's Coral Cup, as have that race's sponsors who make the Henrietta Knight-trained Ringaroses a clear favourite at 9-1.
Bookies will be yearning, however, for another favourable result – such as Idole First, who lifted the 2005 Coral Cup at 33-1.
If there are to be more agonisingly close finishes like that of Joes Edge, however, the term "short-head" is less likely to be used to describe it. As from Monday next week, any photo-finish winning distance deemed to involve two inches or less will be called a "nose".
The new finishing distances, and amendments to the way they are calculated, are being introduced by the British Horseracing Authority. The new distance of a nose will be followed by a short-head (up to eight inches). Fractions of a quarter will also be used between two lengths and four lengths, instead of just half-lengths as at present.
Currently, distances are calculated by a photo-finish computer, using four lengths per second for jumps racing and five lengths per second for Flat racing. However, for National Hunt racing they will now be calculated as follows: four lengths per second when the going is good to soft or worse, and five lengths per second when the going is good or better. New arrangements will also apply for Flat racing.
Ruth Quinn, the BHA director of racing, said: "By introducing new finishing distances, alongside the revised formulae, it will ensure increased accuracy in the measurement of finishing distances which in turn will allow the handicappers to be more accurate in their assessments of horses."
Hold Em, who won his fifth race over hurdles at Huntingdon yesterday, will now attempt to put Grumbly Bush Farm on the Cheltenham Festival map and continue Keith Goldsworthy's remarkable season. The Pembrokeshire trainer's prolific six-year-old gained a hard-fought victory for Timmy Murphy in the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices Hurdle.
Goldsworthy said: "The first thing Timmy said was 'he's better than that'. The ground is a bit floury – a bit dead – and he really needs to spring off it. He battled it out and will go for the Ballymore Properties Hurdle at the Festival. He's in the Coral Cup, but might be a bit high in the handicap for the moment."
Hold Em was cut to 20-1 with Hills, but remained at 25-1 with Paddy Power for the Ballymore, where he faces a probable rematch with his recent Cheltenham conqueror, the hot 6-1 favourite, Aigle d'Or.
The Coral Cup may be on the agenda for Junior, who ran a blinder on his first run since moving to Alan King from Brian Meehan.
Modicum (2-1 favourite) emerged more than a little too good for his rivals in the Bet With BetChronicle.com At The Festival Novices' Chase.
Nicky Richards' gelding had the misfortune of bumping into Hobbs Hill and Cedrus Libani earlier in the season but faced nothing of that calibre here.
Rose Davidson, teaming up with her father and owner Duncan, took up the gauntlet with a circuit to go and was good value for a three-length verdict over Desert Quest.
"He's in the Arkle and I stood the forfeit but I suppose that might be a bit ambitious," reported Duncan Davidson.
"He's so consistent - I think he's only been out of the first two once in his last nine races."
Venetia Williams had amateur Aidan Coleman to thank for driving 2-1 favourite Fretwork home.
Despite being sent of the 2-1 favourite for the BetChronicle Best Antepost Prices Mares Only Maiden Hurdle after a decent debut at Chepstow, she made rather heavy weather of it in pipping Senora Snoopy close home.
Williams said: "Sam Thomas recommended him after he spent his first year out of school at Henrietta Knight's.
"He's based with me now and I have been putting him up quite a bit."
Murphy was suspended for two days (March 3 and 4) for careless riding in allowing Senora Snoopy to drift, while Charlie Longsdon's Omega King could not be recognised from the passport and did not run.
John Quinn received a very minor piece of compensation for the injury to his Grand National hope Character Building as Brook No Argument (100-30 favourite) cleared away on the level in the BetChronicle.com On Course And On Line Mares Only Handicap Hurdle.
"She's tough and she stays," said Quinn.
"The owner bred her and if I can persuade her, we'll run the mare again in a handicap at Doncaster next week."
I'm Supreme (9-2) relished the step up to three miles in the BetChronicle.com John Bigg Oxo Handicap Chase for Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs.
An eventful BetChronicle.com For Chronicle Crackers Novices' Hunters' Chase ended up a dead-heat between Lord Of The Hollow (5-1) and Would Wouldn't (16-1) with Scare Lotte only a nostril behind in third.Reuse content