Betfair squeezing the life out of bookies

Now that the dust has well and truly settled on Galway, and we have had time to analyse what went on, the one conclusion that has to be drawn is the drop in bookmakers’ turnover was alarming to say the least.

I know attendances for the seven days were down over 15,000, from 147,668 last year to 132,215.

But, given how bad the weather was, I actually think the crowd figures were remarkably high.

No, the real eye-opener was the layers holding in excess of €3m less than they did a year ago.

It is frightening and emphasised one more time that Betfair has simply destroyed the betting ring in this country.

In 2011 the bookmakers held €11.8m and that was now down to €8.7m, which is an astonishing reduction.

The ring has been in decline for many years and none of us has a clue as to how it can be revitalised.

And it is such a shame because a healthy betting ring is vital to the well-being of Irish racing.

The battle between the layer and the punter is part of what we are and to see Betfair destroying much of what is noble is utterly dispiriting.

There are those who believe the only question to be answered, regarding on-course bookmakers, is not whether they will disappear, but when?

We have seen a number of them call a halt to their activities in the recent past. Some of those can still be seen on the ground, but are now punters or, probably more accurately, players on Betfair.

We know Ladbrokes have decided to scale back on their on-course operation and others are rumoured to be about to leave the game.

Bookmakers, at least in many cases, are holding little or nothing on the track. There are some good examples of late where they were left scrambling for meagre offerings.

Take the maiden hurdle won by Realt Den Chathair at Wexford on July 28. How much did they hold in that race?

The answer is a paltry €10,233 between the lot of them. Now punters will always feel there’s a good chance of solving a maiden hurdle and yet that’s all was bet in the race.

The previous night at Wexford Aidan O’Brien’s Cabin won a maiden on the flat and just €8,470 was bet on the contest on course.

But if you want a really shocking example of what’s going on then note Tipperary on Tuesday, July 24.

This is what they held in the seven races, €7,456, €6,324, €7,182, €5,424, €16,879, €6,687 and €5,220. That €16,000 plus figure is respectable enough, but the others are just dreadful.

The more the betting ring declines the bigger a disaster it becomes for racing.

Bookmakers add enormous colour to the game and you only have to race in a country that doesn’t have any to quickly realise how boring this sport can be without them.

But this appears to be a runaway train and, unless something is done sooner rather than later, then Betfair is going to finally squeeze the life out of them.

If it happens, and right now it’s inevitable, then racing will never be the same again and we will all be losers.

The performances of two horses of late didn’t half leave one utterly perplexed, starting with Beau Michael.

A press-room colleague in Galway was sweet on his prospects in a handicap hurdle there on the Wednesday and then gazed in open-mouthed bewilderment as the horse disgraced himself and had to be pulled up in the contest won by Get In There.

As I sat in the press room at Cork last Monday I couldn’t help but think of said colleague as we watched Beau Michael come up the straight literally on his own to win at Naas.

And then there was Sure Reef at Galway on Sunday. The previous Monday at Ballybrit, he galloped for fun in front and destroyed the opposition. Six days later he returned to the scene of the crime and died a thousand deaths, leaving us the poorer and wondering what the hell was going on.

We went to Cork last Sunday not expecting much. This is a meeting that traditionally clashes with the final day of Galway and is always sparsely attended.

As well as that most of the bookmaking fraternity were still in the west, so there was, as usual, a distinct lack of atmosphere.

That said, though, there was something especially unedifying watching Sapphire, a 1-7 shot, taking home in excess of €50,000 for winning a Group 3.

Yes it’s raining most of the time and a large part of the working population are forced to draw the dole, but it can be a great old country all of the same!

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