BOOKMAKERS came out well on top in the first round of the war with punters on an extraordinary opening day at the Cheltenham Festival.

The final-flight fall of Benie Des Dieux in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, with the race at her mercy, summed up the afternoon for the backers.

The dramatic exit of the 10-11 favourite evoked memories of Annie Power in the same race four years ago that saved the layers millions, as Roksana (10-1) picked up the pieces to take the prize this time.

Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes said: "We have dodged a real bullet today, particularly in the Mares' Hurdle where Benie Des Dieux replicated Annie Power's dramatic fall in 2015. The result has saved the industry millions of pounds - but it is only day one, so we won't be counting our chickens yet."

The day had started fairly well for punters with Willie Mullins taking the first two races with Klassical Dream (6-1) and Duc Des Genievres (5-1) before the climate changed.

The top three in the Champion Hurdle - Apple's Jade, Laurina and Buveur D'Air - were out of it as 16-1 shot Espoir D'Allen landed the spoils for Gavin Cromwell in the Buveur D'Air colours of JP McManus.

Reading Chronicle:

Beware The Bear beats Vintage Clouds.

Betway's Alan Alger said: "The collective groan that sounded around Cheltenham as Benie Des Dieux crashed out at the last summed up the day for punters.

"After the three big guns in the Champion Hurdle all bombed out, Willie Mullins' odds-on favourite in the following Mares' Hurdle was the get out of jail free card that the majority of punters invested in, but it wasn't to be.

"Benie Des Dieux's final flight fall has saved the bookies a fortune."

Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: "We were fearing the worst after two Mullins' winners, but then results turned massively in the layers' favour and the books are well up on the first day."

Even the victory of one market leader, A Plus Tard (5-1), could not alter the course of the day which saw other double-priced winners in Nicky Henderson's Beware The Bear (10-1) and Le Breuil (14-1).

Beware The Bear claimed top honours in the Ultima Handicap Chase with Jerry McGrath in the saddle.

For much of the way it looked like Up For Review might give Willie Mullins his third winner of the afternoon as he travelled powerfully on the heels of the leaders running down the hill. However, he made a mistake three fences from the finish and his effort soon petered out.

Beware The Bear - a winner at Cheltenham in January - was in the lead at the top of the home straight and while Sue Smith's Vintage Clouds finished strongly, Henderson's inmate had just enough in reserve to hold him at bay.

Henderson said: "That was lovely. Jeremiah McGrath gave him a lovely ride and he had a lovely time. It is nice to get one on the board as that settles everything down.

"We put them on (blinkers) on New Year's Day. We've always made the running with him, or tried to do that. There was only six runners that day (New Year's Day) and he got a soft lead.

"He normally goes up there, drops himself out and comes home with a rattle. We thought 'let's start where he normally puts himself', so we started at the back and passed horses. He stayed well and he enjoyed that.

"He is not in the Grand National and you might wish you had put him in there now, but I would imagine we will have a look at something like the Scottish National or the bet365 at Sandown."

Reading Chronicle:

Beware The Bear with Nicky Henderson and connections.

The surprise results produced a Cheltenham Festival record toteplacepot dividend, and the second biggest of all time.

The £91,283.90 toteplacepot was won by just 10.50 units and was more than double the previous Festival best which paid £44,616 on Lord Windermere's Betfred Gold Cup Day in 2014.

Totepool spokesman Matt Hulmes said "We know how popular the toteplacepot is, and with dividends like this it's incredible to think this can be won without having a winner on the card. Over £1million was bet into it."