Pat Keane: On-course bookies in real peril

Pat Keane: On-course bookies in real peril
CLASSY MARE: Laurina looked a natural when making a winning debut over fences at Gowran Park last Saturday. Picture: Healy Racing

It’s surely a no-brainer to give the on-course bookmakers what they want and help keep them on life support for as long as possible.

The bookmakers have to pay five times the admission price before being allowed to stand and this system is a throwback to an entirely different era.

In other words, if it’s €20 in they pay €100 for the honour of risking their money, or €75 for an admission of €15 and so on.

The layers believe this is unsustainable and want their costs reduced, at least as far as midweek racing is concerned.

They are absolutely right and if racing refuses to give them a break it will ultimately be the big loser.

The on-course betting market in Ireland has been declining for years and could best described as pathetic.

When Betfair, in particular, was allowed a foothold no-one could have foreseen the devastating effect it would have on the on-course market. It changed the landscape forever.

It has left on-course bookmakers, a dwindling band of brothers and sisters, year on year battling to make a living and scrambling for largely non-existent money.

Just have a look at the betting figures for Cork last Sunday week. The first race was a 23-runner maiden hurdle, which had three strongly fancied horses.

Joseph O’Brien’s Front View was the 5-4 favourite, followed by Willie Mullins’ Jon Snow on 6-4 and another O’Brien inmate, Uhtred, was backed from 10-1 to 15-2.

In the good old days this would have been regarded as the perfect betting heat, three horses attracting support and both punters and bookmakers thinking they had a real chance.

But what did the bookmakers hold? The answer is a paltry €7,805. Now when I was a regular on the racecourses of Ireland, I could have pointed out a minimum of three punters that would have bet at least that much between them.

That first race set the trend for the rest of the afternoon. The most the bookmakers held in any race was €9,858 and the least was €6,247.

If you think that’s bad, take Dundalk on Wednesday, November 6. A claiming race saw the bookmakers hold €2,969, while the figure for a 14-runner nursery was a derisory €1,849.

One final example has to be a Grade Three conditions hurdle at Naas on Saturday, November 9. It’s the type of puzzle I love; you have a great chance of solving it and there is always the prospect of a nice bit of value.

There were seven runners and four of them had a life.

The betting was 2-1 Tiger Tap, 11-4 Quartz Du Rheu, 4-1 Gardens Of Babylon, 9-2 Surin and 14 bar. Victory went to Surin, who easily beat Gardens Of Babylon.

It should have been a great betting race, but all the bookmakers held was €12,060. That’s just shocking.

When is racing going to finally wake up and realise the value of on-course bookmakers?

They bring pageantry and character to racecourses, but, most off all, they offer an invaluable service.

But they are now a dying breed and will disappear, sooner rather than later, unless given every encouragement to continue.

Horse Racing Ireland is propped up by substantial government subsidy and the racecourses benefit from a bucket of money for the live pictures from their tracks.

In the meantime, bookmakers are forced to pay to go to work. Imagine, for instance, having to pay to stand at yesterday’s awful low-grade programme at Limerick.

It’s ridiculous and they should at least be afforded an amount of leeway for some of these dreadful meetings.

They have a genuine grievance and should be offered all the help possible. The system is on its last legs and, unless something is done, there will come a time when bookmakers will have to be paid to stand!

That was some start over fences by Laurina at Gowran Park last Saturday.

She is clearly capable of taking very high order as a chaser, but does seem especially happy in testing conditions.

The imposing mare has now won seven of her eight races since arriving in Ireland to be trained by Willie Mullins, her only setback coming with an inexplicably poor effort when a remote fourth behind Espoir D’Allen in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

She beat Minella Indo in a canter at Gowran, but there was plenty to like all the same about Henry de Bromhead’s charge.

A winner over flights at Grade One level at both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals, he was as wild as a March hare at the first at Gowran, but then settled down to jump really well.

He was essentially given a kind introduction by Rachael Blackmore and remains, as he shaped at the back-end of last season, a rather promising talent.

At Navan last Sunday well-known and highly popular photographer Pat Healy was lucky to escape serious injury.

It has been well documented that Entoucas, the runner-up in the opening maiden hurdle, ducked out a matter of strides after the winning post, sending Healy crashing to the ground.

When it emerged that Healy had suffered no worse than a bad battering, racing breathed a collective sigh of relief.

This week I was very much reminded of a story the Kerry man told against himself, as related in September of 2015 in this newspaper by sports editor Tony Leen.

Last Tuesday night Healy, “very sore’’, but, nevertheless, counting his blessings, refreshed my memory of what happened and it’s well worth a second airing.

Apparently, he wasn’t a bad footballer in his younger days and scored 3-3 for Listowel one Sunday.

Anyway, the next day he was in Tim Kennelly’s pub in Listowel and was persuaded by the Kerry legend that he was a worth a try on the Kerry senior football team.

Mick O’Dwyer was still running the show and Healy made the bold move to give O’Dwyer a ring.

Healy told the maestro he had scored all around him at the weekend, from half back, and Kennelly felt was at least worth a spin for Kerry.

“Tell me’’, says O’Dwyer “who were ye playing on Sunday?’’

The response from Healy was instant: “Duagh.’’

O’Dwyer took a second and then muttered the immortal words:

“I’ll tell you what, the next time Kerry are playing Duagh I’ll give you a ring.’’

Isn’t it terrific that just six days after a potential tragedy had been avoided, we can enjoy a good laugh?

Keep clicking old son.

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