AK BETS – Lessons From One Year At It
Monday 3rd October 2022
Despite the title of this blog let’s start with Galway. Initial aspirations to write a monthly blog have been firmly curtailed by the age old not-enough-hours-in-the-day conundrum. My last update was pre-Galway Festival so that seems like a decent place to start.
How did I find Galway? Relatively busy. Not because it hasn’t been busier in years gone by … I’m pretty sure it has been. But AK Bets maiden voyage to the Festival involved working 3 pitches and all the staffing headaches that entails.
First off we were definitely overstaffed for the week. Not knowing what to expect I decided overstaffed would beat understaffed, a policy I might be changing going forward, especially with expenses for away-days going through the proverbial roof.
Like I say we have 3 pitches – Tote Line 8, Tote Line 12, Stand Line 1. All of these pitches are busy across the 7 days and are of sufficient quality to turn over plenty of dockets (all pitches have a 1946 Seniority).
I, however, made the mistake of putting 2 pitches into the Mayor’s Garden (I’d been calling it the Mares’ Garden for months prior to the meeting with no-one correcting me) for the first 4 days of the Festival. In the draw down in the garden we secured Pitch 1 twice in 4 days and Pitch 2 on one of the other days which certainly helped. But that good variance won’t always be on our side and in hindsight we only need one pitch down there in future.
All in all it was a good week. We lost on the first day but made our money after that. Saturday, the quietest of the 7 days mainly due to the rain, we won but amusingly the total was £69. So basically that’s a losing day.
Lots of chatter about the price of accommodation putting people off until I heard local hotels were housing more than their fair share of Ukrainians fleeing war. Our family has a decent enough backstory in that regard so that’s certainly not an issue I’m going to be complaining about.
In conclusion I think the management at Galway do a fantastic job.
My one recommendation is inside the stand it’s Tote-only which no doubt detracts from the betting experience for those inside. I for one have no objection to myself or my betting ring colleagues taking turns to service the clientele inside regardless of who has what Seniority but that’s a point for another day.
Post-Galway we then lost at 7 of the next 9 meetings including a fairly decent pounding at the Curragh due to Little Big Bear in the Phoenix Stakes. I’d been asked did I want to lay a chunky bet @ 5/2 overnight (I did not) but decided to lay plenty of 7/4 in the ring until the off. I topped this off by also taking the 6/4 Bradsell in the ring for myself. Not my finest hour.
The rest of the month was fairly good to us before we headed into September.
I was debating whether to bother going down to Galway for the two-day meeting at the start of September due to the rain but in the end decided to go. This firm and rain do not go well together. The shorts got a soaking and we lost 5-figures.
Laytown was a pleasure like it always is despite internet issues in the ring resulting in only 3 out of 4 pitches being operational (2.5 really given the time it took to sort out the 3rd one). We had Simon Nott, creator of the #BettingPeople series, over working with us which is always a pleasure. He’s one of the industry’s good guys who usually brings over a bit of luck with him. Might have him back for the Troytown @ Navan so he can tick another track off his list.
Then it was onto the big one. Listowel.
This year’s meeting clashed with the Ploughing Championship (note: English readers I’m not even joking). This was a worry to us given we made a sizeable investment to secure Stand Line 1 pitch off Peter McGrane.
The first few days are slow enough (but not when you have as good a pitch as ours) and we were churning out plenty of dockets, Then the final 4 days (Wed-Sat) were absolutely bananas. We turned over a small fortune and results went our way as well. This is the best pitch we own by a country mile.
Lessons From One Year At It
Back to the title of the blog which is a bit disingenuous in itself as, despite working mid-July 2021 @ Killarney, we only worked 8 meetings in total in the whole of the calendar year (Covid) meaning we’re only 8-9 months in at most.
My biggest lesson and learning curve has been in relation to staff. Up until the end of May we were absolutely cruising along without a care in the world with everything going swimmingly. I’d built the business up and knew that the summer months would be hectic. Despite this we were all geared up for an exciting summer.
But when you’ve got little kids at home, and your main staff members have little kids at home as well, this job can be very tough. Listen I know we’re not splitting the atom here but nights away and time spent driving on the road after being stood up for long periods can take it out of you. You tend to be eating shite as well.
I didn’t staff the pitches correctly this summer factoring in all of the above and that’s something I need to correct in 2023.
Our winter months are a bit quieter (19 days in October, 17 in November, 18 in December – maybe even less January and February).
We’re going to try and improve on 2022 and kick on.
I might even sort that office out at some stage and lay a few bets over the phone. Keep your eyes open for that if I ever do pull my finger out.
AK BETS – National Hunt is ramping up
Thursday 1st December 2022
Flat turns to Jumps
Do you prefer the Flat or Jumps? It’s the sort of question that reminds me of the Ed Byrne joke about a certain part of the female anatomy being compared to Pepsi or Coke – the punchline being we may state a preference but we’ll take whatever is on tap!
The transfer from one to the other – be it Jumps to Flat or Flat to Jumps – is usually welcome after 6 months solid but I think my preference is Jumps racing, both as a punter and a bookmaker.
Flat racing in the summer when the sun is out is a joy. But it’s becoming more and more 60-90 second races followed by a 35min wait for the next one and that’s a huge turnoff. In this age of instant gratification we need to be finding ways of reducing the standard 30min gaps not increasing them.
I prefer the jumps as a punter. There’s more nuance and reading between the lines even at the top level than there is on the flat and that suits me. As a bookmaker I prefer it as well mainly because I’ve 5mins to go to the toilet between races instead of 60 seconds!
From an AK Bets on-course perspective I wanted to give a big shout-out to Navan which is one of the tracks we really like attending.
On Sunday 13th November they hosted a cracking card to get the National Hunt juices flowing which included the always intriguing Lismullen Hurdle.
Bob Olinger v Zanahiyr v Flooring Porter v Ashdale Bob promised to be a belter and so it proved. With my bookmaker hat on Home By The Lee winning @ 28/1 SP (bigger on-course obviously!) topped it off also.
Then last Sunday (27th November) the track hosted their Troytown meeting. We touched lucky in the draw and got a Corporate pitch on our own in addition to our two pitches in the ring.
I cannot stress how much tracks should be utilising on-course bookmakers on their big days to service corporate clients.
The bookies love it.
The clients love it.
There isn’t anyone under the age of 80 who wants to bet solely on the Tote in these areas. Stick an on-course bookie into your Corporate area and we add to the experience ten-fold. Your corporate client wants to return the following year. The big Festival tracks like Galway, Listowel etc should take note.
On the flipside on-course bookies should be beating down the doors of racetracks explaining the benefits of this potential relationship. It’s a two-way street. Short-term thinking usually involves Seniority protection and getting as big a piece of the existing pie as each individual can. I’d prefer more long-term thinking to increase the size of the pie for everyone.
On the subject of tracks doing things right it’s only fair to give props to Dundalk. The track reportedly handed out 10,000 free tickets for their Friday 18th November fixture and got 3,500 through the door – a colossal increase on their usual numbers.
The track was absolutely rocking. The bars were packed. The betting ring was heaving. As a comparison our betting turnover was up nearly 300% on our average Friday numbers. All the attendees we spoke to had a great time and couldn’t believe the buzz in the place.
The lost revenue in not charging your 10-20 Euro to get in was more than offset by increased drink, food and craic consumption. And what’s more everyone a lot more likely to return in future because the experience was so positive.
I understand tracks not wanting to devalue their product and someone smarter than me can delve deeper into the elasticity of demand with this type of offer but this fixture worked and should be another string to the bow of tracks looking to increase attendances.
So much to look forward to. Fairyhouse over two days this weekend features Minella Crooner, Fan De Blues, Facile Vega and more on Saturday. There’s even more decent horses than you can shake a stick at on Sunday and this all results in another mouth-watering weekend for Irish racing.
We’re also looking forward to a trip to Tramore on the 6th followed by more meetings at Punchestown, Navan and Dundalk.
Then it’s Xmas @ Leopardstown. Our first year working the Festival.
BRING IT ON!
AK Bets – Crazy July: Next Stop GALWAY
Thursday 21st July 2022
A Crazy July
The madness started this month with Bellewstown. Well, technically, their 3-day meeting started on 30th June but you get the jist.
The Thursday and Friday meetings resulted in 5-figure turnover each evening. A tiny profit on opening day was followed by two decent days as the positions we took landed in our favour. On the Saturday our turnover almost matched the amounts turned over in the ring for the first two days combined. The caveat here is we had a pitch in Corporate as well as in the ring.
The thing about Corporate pitches in Ireland is they sound great. But rarely are. You pay a substantial premium to stand in them in addition to all your other costs and you live and die by the punters in front of you. The positioning of the two bookmaker joints each day in Corporate wasn’t great and this is probably an area the INPBA can look at improving by working with tracks. It’s half-galling paying through the nose to stand in an unfavourable location.
The whole meeting hinged on the second last race on Saturday’s card. We took a big position that Hereditary Rule was a lay at 2/1 when all around us were 7/4. Half of the money fielded was from bookmaker hedges and half from punters taking our top price 2/1 in the ring. In the minutes before the off John McConnell’s charge got very weak in the betting before returning 5/2 off-course (11/4 with us). With an average price laid of a little less than 9/4 we were in good. And the result fell our way (4th).
On Monday 4th July we headed south to Roscommon for ladies day. I missed an exit and had to venture through a few random towns. One of those towns was Ballymahon were, only the previous week, I’d spent spent an agonising morning in the local doctors with a scratched cornea before our Center Parcs holiday was cut short with a trip to the Mater Hospital in Dublin.
Our pitch at Roscommon is moderate as was purchased as part of a job lot in the Rory Durkin dispersal (we wanted the Front Line 1 pitch @ Leopardstown). For a change, business was good and the fiver eachways added up.
Killarney, Leopardstown and Dundalk (the week from hell)
Well, the week from hell started on Sunday to be honest.
Sunday 10th half of the team (myself and Mo) went to Fairyhouse and the other half (Dave and Graham) went to Sligo with the latter proving profitable and the former handy for topping up the tan whilst trying to cover expenses. All 4 then travelled from our respective meetings down to Killarney Sunday evening arriving just in time for a curry. Mo rang ahead and booked a table for 4 for 10pm. When we arrived it was empty! An ominous sign. Crap, overpriced food ingested we then grabbed a few pints and a kip.
Note: open a curry house in Killarney. They’re all god awful.
Monday morning started with a trip to a gorgeous, warm watered beach that sadly had more jellyfish than people on it. A diversion to Kells Beach meant less jellyfish but absolutely freezing water. God giveth with one hand and taketh with the other.
Tuesday was a day from hell. In bed at 1:30am, up at 5:45am, flat tire at 6:30am, on the side of the road until just after 9am, then a drive to Dundalk testing our new Galway kit which had a few bugs, lost 5 grand after expenses and lost at Killarney too. My dad flew into Cork from Manchester for a tenner and joined the team in Killarney for 3 days as our luck changed on the Wednesday.
It changed back again on the Thursday as the book lost the guts of 12 grand (cheers Denis) but we did claw back 2 grand at Leopardstown thanks to Dave & Graham who droved up and down the motorway in Graham’s tank – which doesn’t help the expenses! Staffing nightmare these weeks. Friday was very good to us with a sizeable winning day. One of those days were everything goes right and it ensured we won on the week.
The AK Bets ‘Better Prices Than The Corporates’ Handicap took place on Sunday 17th July. We won a few quid on the day to top the week off as well. Race 2 of the AK Bets Summer Series is on 6th August and, in addition to our Twitter tipping competition, we’ll have plenty of free tickets for the meeting up for grabs. Stay tuned to our Twitter page @akbets87 post-Galway for your chance to grab a pair.
Next up is Galway. 3 top seniority pitches and a skeleton staff.
Should be … interesting.
AK Bets – The Story So Far
Tuesday 28th June 2022
Scratching The Itch
I’d always wanted to have a go at making a book myself but those aspirations usually remained deep in my unconscious.
In 2005-2006 ish I used to post on the Betfair Forum from my dingy digs on Castle Irwell Student Village in Salford trying to soak up as much knowledge as I could. I did this whilst listening to Betfair Radio which in turn was sandwiched between playing football, working in a Coral shop on Swinton Town Centre and attending the odd Economics lecture, all the while trying to understand the significance of the numbers on the Betfair Exchange screen.
It was on the Betfair Forum I’d got chatting to Alan Preston, a bookie from up north, who kindly allowed me to stand close by whilst he took bets at York one sunny summer afternoon. That was my first peek behind the curtain.
My next mission involved a trip to John Lovell’s Exchange shop in Coventry where his son James kindly picked me up at the train station before giving me a tour. I could barely afford that train down from Manchester and when it came to my turn at having a go betting in-running using John’s fast pictures I didn’t have a bean in my Betfair account to partake. James let me use his. I think I still owe him £8.
Fast forward to around 2015 approx. and I asked a pal of mine Jamie whether he fancied a go on track pricing up at a minor horse meeting or maybe we’d ‘have a go’ at Shelbourne Park. He didn’t. So the itch stayed unscratched.
Fast forward again to 2020-2021. Covid boredom combined with a lack of sport to bet on and dead cash sat in the bank not doing much awakened the beast inside.
I’d got chatting to Peter McGrane at the Curragh a few years previous after his relationship on-course with Paddy Power had ended. If you haven’t spoken to Peter before he is as sharp as a tack and a proper nice man to boot. The sort of fella, and there are plenty of them on racecourses in the UK & Ireland, who has been involved in racing his whole life and has stories you’d want to listen to. Peter was a huge help to me starting off and put in an unbelievable amount of time and effort advising me on everything to do with on-course bookmaking in Ireland.
After securing my bookmaking licence the first pitches I bought were a couple of Peter’s at Killarney (good ones). Of all the pitches I’ve bought since they remain, in my opinion, my best value purchase. The Killarney pitches were followed by a couple more of Peter’s at Bellewstown and Navan as he half-winded down to focus on his prime pitches at the major tracks.
Up And Running
After buying a heap of gear (the barriers to entry are large) I was up and running. First stop Killarney on Saturday 15th July 2021. But first I needed someone to work with me and on the off chance asked a lad I’d played a bit of 5-a-side with in Dublin, David Tyrrell. ‘Tidler’ had been managing the Rathfarnham Boylesports shop for 12 years, was a decent footballer (fans of numerous League Of Ireland clubs might disagree) but better than that he was as honest as the day is long, sound, and never used to lay me a bet. So the thinking was he won’t have me over and might be able to spot a shrewdie! Thankfully, for both of us, Tidler joined me on Day 1 in Killarney.
We left Dublin at about 8am for a 1.20pm ish start if my memory is correct. Plenty of time right? Yes, for someone who had bet on course before. Think we rocked up at the track about 12 and barely had any prices on the board before the first race. It was a bit of a shitshow. According to my records that day I lost 1,200 Euro.
Meeting 2 took place a full 10 weeks later at the end of September and was like learning to ride a bike again. Frankie Dettori jumped up on the joint, we got a few pictures (Pat Healy definitely took the Mrs to Sandy Lane that winter with the loot from snapping Frankie next to mugs like me) and I lost 3,700 Euro!
Two meetings, ten weeks apart, a lot of kit and a few pitches purchased and nearly 5 grand in the hole on the book.
So I did what any sane fella would do, and bought a shit load more pitches, took Tidler on full time and eventually employed another ex-Boylesports shop manager (Mo) full-time also.
Ups And Downs
Since then it’s been a bit up and down to say the least. We’ve had some bad days. Losing 11,500 Euro at Dundalk on the 4th March tops the list. We’ve had some good days. Winning 7,400 Euro on day one of this year’s Punchestown Festival (it was followed by a 7,100 Euro loss on Day 2 though!).
There’s been big winning runs. 7 winning meetings in a row before a loss at Roscommon this evening broke the most recent good run.
There’s been big losing runs. 5 losing meetings in a row between 29th March and 6th April for a combined loss of 18,200 Euro was fairly grim.
There’s always something to keep the mind active though.
Big Summer Ahead
We’ve a huge summer ahead. In the month of July my on-course team will be working at 27 individual meetings, across 25 race days whilst operating 53 bookmaking pitches at those tracks. What a difference a year makes.
We have the AK Bets Summer Series kicking off at the Curragh on 17th July with further races sponsored on the 6th August and 20th August.
It’s all go and the bags under my eyes continue to get darker.
If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading.
I’ll try to blog fortnightly or monthly going forward about how we’re getting on. Will try to document the good times and the bad. The things we get right and the mistakes we’ll make. I might even comment on a few things going on in the industry in more detail and you’re welcome to agree or disagree.
Good luck punting.