Gregory Hughes is off to stand on the rails at the Cheltenham Festival meeting this week for the seventeenth time in the annual battle of the bookie versus punters betting wits.
Having only missed one year - when the meeting was a casualty of the Foot and Mouth disease, the Warrenpoint-based bookie is heads for the green fields of Gloucestershire to indulge in one his favourite passions.
“I really love the festival week, even though it’s not the same at all now from the early days, mostly because there are very few £1000 punters. They are all dying off” stated the man who runs a couple of the outlets in Coalisland as well as his main two in Dungannon.
“There are too many stay-at-home big punters, some put off by the huge size of the crowds, others perhaps attracted by handiness of the internet betting from the comfort of their own homes.
“But it’s still a very special place and I have no intention of quitting the annual pilgrimage anytime soon” assured Hughes, who likes to give the local punters his thoughts on the possible hits and misses of the various big race hopefuls.
Once again all the talk on the run-up to the meeting is dominated by Willie Mullins and his vast stable of stars, something else that Hughes feels is not good for the sport.
“His domination has ruined Irish racing and there’s a terrible fall in attendances” said the bookie, who stood to lose more than a quarter of a million pounds had Annie Power not inexplicably fallen at the last hurdle, miles clear and heading to complete a day one four-timer for Mullins.
“We’d laid the special from 33-1 down to 16-1 and it would have been a real body-blow, but it must’ve been some kind of divine intervention to save the bookies, because it was set to be the costliest day ever in national hunt racing with a £50m pay-out nationwide.
“We had a similar special going this year, 8/1 for four real Mullins hot-pots but the injury to Champion Hurdler Faugheen ruined that for those who waded in early and lost their money as a consequence of him not running.
“Now, instead, we have grouped together Min, Douvain, Annie Power and Un De Sceaux and the price is a superb 33-1 if you fancy a flutter” added Hughes, who ventures this considered betting advice.
“I fancy Don Poli to win Gold Cup at around 5-1. I am convinced Cue Card and Don Cossack will not get up the hill. And I think Identity Thief is the best bet for Champion Hurdle. I believe Thistlecrack at 6/5 in World Hurdle will be the big loser of the week.”
While Gregory was spared that quarter-million pay-out, he was delighted to have to hand over a cheque for £850 to the local branch of Marie Curie after two winners romped in for the Tyrone Times charity bet - and this year, he’s again affording us the same opportunity to help a good cause.
And, hopefully, thanks to the generosity of the man they call ‘The Punter’s Pal’, another local charities will benefit from my own expertise at analysing the form book.
That’s because Frank Hughes Bookmakers are providing us with a free charity bet for £50 EVERY DAY during 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
Any winnings will be given to a worthy charity, which of course is obviously not being named until such time as there might be some money to give them.
To enable us to put as much deliberation as possible into choosing our potential winner each, the selection will only be made each morning.
To keep in touch with our progress log on each day, Tuesday to Friday, to www.tyronetimes. co.uk/sport/cheltenhamcharity bet and I hope we can up with a few more like last year’s winners.
See the advert on Page 13.