It’s been a while since I last did a blog. There’s been a few reasons for this. I try to give my views and opinions on mainly racing related topics and quite frankly there hasn’t been very much to talk about in the last month or so. When doing these blogs as a self-employed bookmaker answerable to nobody only myself, I have a freedom to express my honest views that many others can’t for various reasons. While it gives me the opportunity to be quite frank with my views I am also very conscious that racing is a small industry where everybody knows everybody and I firmly believe every stake holder in the game is and should be an unofficial ambassador for the sport.
Racing is a tough, hard game. There is nothing easy about it. Most people that earn a living from it work bloody hard at it. Jockeys, trainers, stable staff, valets, media, racecourse staff, catering staff, on course bookmakers, tote staff, punters, breeders, stud hands, sales companies, agents and many, many more work morning, noon and night, in all conditions, travelling the length and breadth of the country day in day out to earn a living. Its anything but an easy or normal life but most love it. Also, the vast majority are thoroughly decent people. Even the rogues are generally likeable rogues!
When I do a blog I feel it’s important to be honest and if something is on my mind it usually comes out, I do however always aim for any criticism to be constructive. As regular readers here know I am deeply passionate about many aspects of the racing industry and while it has been great to have it on the TV this summer even the most ardent racing fan (with the exception of Johnny Murtagh!) won’t be sorry to see the back of the 2020 flat season. Empty stands, soulless parade rings without winning connections and we didn’t even get to see a Royal Procession on the biggest flat week of them all in Ascot, it may as well have been Lingfield or Wolverhampton.
We are seven months into this pandemic now and it looks like we are right back where we started. As an on course bookmaker, there has been no change from March to October. It’s been like a grieving process. In Spring it was utter devastation, summer I felt lonely, most other industries were getting back to normal and we were forgotten about and now the bitterness has lifted slightly the scars still run very deep. To those who sat back and watched us drown when they could and should have done a lot more to support us…..it’s a long road that has no turn in it. There are no more tears to shed or doors to slam but as I said in my very first blog, failure is not an option so survival is the order of the day for now and then a comeback at some stage next year with a hunger and desire like never before. Like all industries, we will have to adapt and the days of expecting a tech savvy customer to give you their business if they can get better value elsewhere are over. I hope to bring a new modern element to my business that will compete with any firm and if and when your racing next I’d love to meet any race goer who wants a bet. You will be looked after with a professional and personal service that I believe will add to your race day experience and enjoyment.
Remarkably, Irish Racing received a substantial increase in funding from the Irish government up over 9 million euro from 2020 to 2021. The lobby must have been strong and for that the team at HRI should be congratulated. However, I get the feeling that while this money is being thrown at HRI, it is buying silence.
Ireland moves to reinstate the strictest lock down measures in Europe tonight. Many people including myself have animals just ready to go to sales in November, all plans have been thrown up in the air. I appreciate this is the same for many industries but not all. Construction has been deemed essential. The kitchen can get a fresh lick of paint or the bathroom can be tiled but sales can’t go ahead. How in God’s name is this any more essential than our business? Every business is essential to those who rely on it to put food on their table.
HRI need to step up to the mark here and stand up for industry stake holders. There hasn’t been a peep out of them. The level 5 restrictions that are going to be imposed on us all are guaranteed to make a desperate situation even worse. While the government have tough choices to make, hanging us all out to dry certainly isn’t the answer. The threat of never ending lock downs and restrictions causes huge uncertainty and makes business unviable. Ask yourself the question…. Who in their right mind would buy a horse at the minute not knowing when they will be allowed to go and see it run?
The budget has bought HRI’s silence but another few months of this and horse racing will end up very much like greyhound racing with its glory years very much in the past never to return again. It’s clear to me (as a former died in the wool Fine Gael supporter) and anyone else who has ever ran any sort of business that the Irish government is full of Idiots, with no viable plan for moving forward. It’s time we got our speak in and stood up for the whole industry, as just being happy to be able to continue to race will prove to have been very short sighted. Our voice is simply not being heard in Dáil Éireann. The strategy of sitting it out saying nothing has clearly failed, is there a plan B? I don’t blame HRI entirely for the complete mess we find ourselves in, it’s very clear now they are dealing with a government who have no worthwhile strategy, plan or ambition. However, when they are paid extraordinary amounts of money to run an organisation in the very year the people they are working on behalf of are hurting so badly, they have to deliver, by hook or by crook. John C Maxwell described leadership as ‘A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way’. It’s time for Irish racings leadership to lead and ensure 2021 isn’t as catastrophic as 2020. Where there is a will, there is a way.
To end on a positive note, the national hunt season is ready for take-off. I have a feeling we are in for another epic duel between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. Numbers alone make it look inevitable that Elliott will be champion trainer someday but I don’t think Willie will give up his crown easily, I think his annual Punchestown blitz will seal the deal again for him this year. Rachael Blackmore could be champion jockey, that would be some story. In my view it’s a straight shootout between herself and Paul Townend, injuries could potentially decide it. Jamie Codd and Patrick Mullins will duel it out for the amateur title and it’s another race that will go to the wire, both are the wrong side of 30 and I actually think they are both riding better than ever. On the conditional front I think Sean O Keefe is the stand out among the current crop. I wish them all well and I hope that they all stay as injury free as possible.
My dark horse for the season is Bob Olinger. He looks the real deal. Remember the name, I’ve a feeling you will be hearing plenty more about him.
All the best,