Odds against dying art form -- but I'll stick with it to end
It's a fairly tough existence inside the betting ring these days. At the Curragh last weekend, my takings were down around 33pc on 2011. The previous week at Royal Ascot, it was a similar story, down 20pc, so there's no doubt there's a recession in England, too.
It's not just an Irish problem and it's not just a horse racing thing, either. I stand at Shelbourne Park as well and, at a 10-race meeting last Thursday, I struck nine bets.
It's not worth my while going for that kind of business, but I want to keep providing the service for as long as I can. On-course bookmaking is a dying artform.
Old-fashioned characters like the late Sean Graham and Terry Rogers have just disappeared, which is a pity. Those guys dominated the betting ring. They would get up on a box and price their board with chalk, attract business and dust off and change the prices accordingly. You'd go into the ring just to see what they were doing.
Now, all the public sees are light-boards. When you go to a race meeting now, you mightn't even know if I was at it or not, because the light-boards are so big, the person standing alongside doesn't matter anymore. They just hand out receipts.
It's a pity the energy has gone out of the ring, because it's somewhere that punters can still get great value. At the Curragh on Friday, I laid a cash bet of €250 each-way at 50/1 on My Special J's, a Pat Shanahan-trained debutant in the two-year-old maiden.
If the horse had won, I was looking at a net payout of €15,000. As it was, My Special J's, backed all the way into an SP of 12/1, ran a blinder to be beaten a head, and I had to return just €2,750.
However, that was still double the size of any other bet I laid all weekend.
I was intrigued to see Richard Hughes recently advocate increasing prize money at Royal Ascot to compete with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. In my opinion, that's a race to the bottom, like the property bubble was.
Attendance at Ascot was well down this year, and that surely had plenty to do with a basic entrance fee of £71. Racing needs to put bums on seats.
Eva-Maria Haefner of Moyglare Stud, whose father Walter passed away last week, is sponsoring free entry to the Moyglare meeting at the Curragh on September 9.
To me, people like her are heroes, and I think many smaller meetings, in particular, would benefit from free entry. Getting people in is key.
Nowadays, with online betting and all racing televised, people are slow to leave the comfort of their homes. In the past, betting-shop tax used to be 20pc when it was just 7.5pc on-course, so there was more of an incentive for people to travel.
That has been levelled out now, though, and when you factor in things like more stringent drink driving laws, people are less inclined to hit the road.
Essentially, festivals like Galway, Listowel and Bellewstown are keeping the thing going for on-course layers, and I believe the social element is imperative to those meetings.
Moreover, Bellewstown has wonderful character, and I'm happy to say that I am their longest-serving sponsor. I have two pitches there and it is a meeting that I always do good business at, so I wouldn't be anywhere else for the next three days.
I definitely think the fact that I am a sponsor there helps because, when people think about it, they appreciate that you are supporting the racing. As well as that, there is a strong race-going community in the vicinity, and Bellewstown really is a unique spot.
If you have never been, or even if you have, I'd strongly urge you to pay it a visit this weekend. You won't be disappointed.
For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie