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.
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