BOOKMAKERS pocketed a small fortune in failed ante-post bets yesterday as Yeats - long-term favourite for the Vodafone Derby - was ruled out of Saturday’s big race at Epsom with a muscle problem.
Rumours had been circulating for weeks that all was not well with Aidan O’Brien’s colt, and speculation came to the boil on Tuesday when it emerged that the son of Sadlers Wells was undergoing physiotherapy for muscular problems.
Having been perched at the head of the market for the Epsom Classic since the book opened last summer, the Ballydoyle hope was deposed as favourite by Snow Ridge and his price on the exchanges swung alarmingly towards double figures.
And the army of punters who had invested heavily in Yeats throughout the past year - including the Newcastle man who turned up at his local betting shop in April and handed over a banker’s draft for 30,000 in exchange for odds of 3-1 - had their worst fears confirmed, when O’Brien announced yesterday morning that he would not be risking his charge in the blue riband.
"As I have said before, if Yeats was not right for Epsom, he wouldn’t run," said O’Brien.
"We looked at him again this morning and his muscle problem has not improved sufficiently, so we think it is in the best interest of the horse not to run in the Derby. We plan to give him a complete rest.
"It is bitterly disappointing for everyone here at Ballydoyle as Yeats has always worked like a champion."
The County Tipperary-based handler, who still has 20-1 shot Meath and 100-1 outsider Moscow Ballet in the race, added: "We look forward to getting him back to the track at a later date."
Following his defection, Ladbrokes have cut Frankie Dettori’s mount Snow Ridge into 2-1 and have also trimmed North Light and Salford City into 5-2 and 7-1 respectively.
"This has completely opened up the Derby market. It is effectively a new book with numerous runners now having a great shout," said the firm’s Balthazar Fabricius.
It also emerged yesterday that Sir Alex Ferguson was heavily involved in the decision to stump up 75,000 to supplement his syndicate-owned colt Gatwick for the Derby.
The Manchester United manager, who was joint-owner of the record-breaking Rock Of Gibraltar, will not be present at Epsom however and has resigned himself to watching the race on television.
Syndicate head Henry Ponsonby explained: "I spoke to Sir Alex and he assured me that he would be able to watch the Derby on television. When I consulted him about supplementing Gatwick he was very keen to do so. In fact, as keen as anyone was."
The opportunity to put Gatwick into the Derby for 8,000 at the second entry stage in April was declined, but Ponsonby takes the view that it was a blessing in disguise.
"If he’d been entered and shown us what he has, I’m sure we would have gone the trial route towards Epsom and things might not have worked out as they have," he said.
"I know we’ve had to find a relatively large sum to get him there, but we’ve had spectacular success this spring with his wins at Goodwood and Haydock."
Ponsonby revealed that he has backed the Mick Channon-trained Gatwick - now trading at 33-1 - to win enough to cover the cost of a celebration should the colt triumph. "I’ve had a decent each-way bet on him as well as an each-way double with Brian Meehan’s Crystal in the Oaks. I was speaking to Brian and we’ve agreed that if we bring off the double we’ll stage a party the like of which Lambourn has never seen before."
VODAFONE DERBY BETTING:
Ladbrokes: 2-1 Snow Ridge, 5-2 North Light, 7-1 Salford City, 8-1 Percussionist, 9-1 American Post, 12-1 Rule Of Law, 14-1 Let The Lion Roar, 20-1 Meath, 22-1 Gatwick, 33-1 Hazyview, Pukka, Elshadi, 100-1 Moscow Ballet, 150-1 Coming Again, 150-1 Massif Centrale.
Totesport: 2-1 Snow Ridge, 5-2 North Light, 6-1 Salford City, 8-1 American Post, 9-1 Percussionist, 14-1 Let The Lion Roar, Rule Of Law, 20-1 Gatwick, Meath, 25-1 Elshadi, 33-1 Hazyview, Pukka, 100-1 Massif Centrale, Moscow Ballet, 150-1 Coming Again.