PAT KEANE: HRI figures illustrate decline of betting ring - but all is not lost

The recent HRI figures didn’t half illustrate the massive decline in activity in the betting ring in Ireland, threatening the very existence of on-course bookmakers down the line.

PAT KEANE: HRI figures illustrate decline of betting ring - but all is not lost

The on-course bookmaker is as vital to racing as horses, jockeys and trainers. They add enormous colour to the game, are simply part of the very fabric of the sport and it is of huge importance that they continue to maintain a massive presence on racecourses all over Ireland.

But the lifeblood of any business is turnover and if the recent HRI edict tells us anything it is that the betting ring in Ireland is virtually on life-support.

To try and understand just how bad the situation has become, I pulled out the figures for the Thyestes meeting at Gowran Park in 2008 and compared them to this year’s meeting, held on January 24.

The difference is quite staggering and, if you are an on-course bookmaker, who depends exclusively on that to make a living, very frightening. I suppose 2008 was the start of the recession in Ireland, but the amount of money that was floating around on racecourses, in comparison with 2013, was enormous.

In 2008 the Thyestes Chase went to 20-1 chance Preists Leap. The layers that day held €210,000 on the race. This year it was €97,000. They got a screamer as well in the Galmoy Hurdle, with victory going to 14-1 shot, Earth Magic. They also held €210,000 on that.

This year the Galmoy attracted two quality horses in Bog Warrior and Zaidpour. It should have been a great betting race, but all that went through the satchels was €59,000.

Drive On Regardles won the bumper at Gowran in 2008 and the bookmakers held €212,000. The bumper this year saw them handle just a paltry €56,000.

And one other race well worth a mention from 2008 was a novice chase won by Willie Mullins’ J’y Vole, the 5-4 favourite.

In that contest the bookmakers held an extraordinary €267,000 and only the Galway festival in high-summer could top that in Ireland five years later. Declining attendances, a savage recession, meaning many punters have little disposable income, Betfair and Betdaq, the cost of actually going racing and easy access to pictures in the home has completely changed the landscape. Right now it is doom and gloom and there is little doubt that more bookmakers will go out of business.

But all is not lost. At some stage this cursed recession will end and, perhaps, people will then begin to come back to racing and also start to realise that betting with your on-course bookmaker should be the future, rather than paying commission to faceless people on the exchanges.

It is time for all of us within racing to begin to understand that there is actually no great advantage to be gained by constantly directing one’s resources to the exchanges.

At least that should be the attitude of punters on track, while obviously the exchanges are a welcome alternative to trying to get on a half-decent wager in the betting offices. When you can get 11-4 on Betfair then it’s a certainty 5-2 is available with the bookmaker. By the time Betfair had deducted its commission you are on at 5-2 anyway. It has to be said as well that somewhere along the way so many punters have lost the plot.

They have forgotten that their chances of winning will always be greatly increased by actually attending a meeting.

You will frequently hear something at the course that could well offer you a decent edge. You will definitely hear little or nothing staring at a screen at home, which will work to your advantage.

It is surely the message that has to be got across. A day’s racing is good for the health and the soul, you can still get bundles on if you so wish, especially at the metropolitan meetings, and taking cash off the man on the box will beat waiting for a cheque every time.

The exchanges have ruined the betting rings in Ireland and Britain, there is absolutely no doubt about that. But it doesn’t have to be so, although how we can arrest the savage decline remains the challenge. Anyone got an answer?

That was some hard-to-swallow result in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown last Sunday, victory going to 25-1 shot Born In Fire (pictured), and over 100-1 on Betfair. Occasionally the result of a race will completely defy logic and this was certainly one such example.

He was beaten 70 lengths when ninth behind Jennies Jewel at Naas previously and only had 68 lengths to find with the second then, Upazo, who finished seventh at Punchestown.

Don Cossack remains a bit of an enigma and, to me, continues to be far from convincing as a hurdler.

Mind you his length second to Mozoltov at Punchestown was a far better effort than when he fell at the last at Navan, giving hopeless chase to Pont Alexandre.

Picture: Healy Racing

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