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Course schooling a cancer in racing

I read the Sunday Independent each weekend and must admit that, more often than not, I purchase it purely on the basis of a high-quality sports supplement. However, I was quite disappointed with your short piece last Sunday [Jan 2] in which John O'Brien wrote of the importance of owners' interests over those of the punters and feel compelled to take you up on a few points.

While I agree in the most part with your assertion, I do think that you missed out on an opportunity to ask some pertinent questions of the racing establishment. Such as: are horses always trying their best to win races?

My issue is this. While I agree that the well-being of a horse should take precedence over the interests of punters, punters, in general, are treated consistently with contempt by some owners, trainers and jockeys.

A jockey can come in after any race and give 101 excuses as to why the horse didn't win but he is never going to come out and say "well, we decided not to give him a hard time as this is just a stepping stone to bigger things". No, they wouldn't as this contravenes the rules of racing which are very, very poorly enforced in our country.

Horses not running on their merits and trainers using the racecourse as a schooling ground is a cancer that eats away at racing in Ireland and, thus far, other than the occasional slap on the back of the hand, no ban of a serious nature has been received.

Your statement that the racing industry would struggle, but survive, without punters, based on other countries' experiences, is a little naive. While in university, I completed my dissertation which was a study of the French horse racing industry. Yes, they had a very well regulated betting industry with independent bookmakers deemed illegal; however, up and down the country, it was French punters in cafes betting on a daily basis, using the pari-mutuel, whose money was making a very significant contribution to the industry, so in that regard, the punter was MORE important in these countries. However, they are now starting to open up the betting side in France as they can clearly see the financial benefits of having very healthy betting support.

Lastly, what are your thoughts on the emergence of the PR men for the bookmakers? Personally, I think it is outrageous that we can have a representative from a bookmaking firm (who only makes money when you lose money) going on radio, TV or other events and giving out betting advice and tips.

Simon Madden

Sneer campaign doesn't add up

In Eamonn Sweeney's article about clichés of Irish sports reporting [Jan 2], entry number 49 was bizarre.

When Cristiano Ronaldo's popularity was at its peak three or four years ago, Mr Sweeney wrote an article in which he ridiculed RTE's soccer analysts and referred to them as 'dinosaurs' for suggesting that Ronaldo was not all he's cracked up to be.

Now he is suggesting that most people, presumably including himself, could see a long time ago that Ronaldo 'is a fraud who can't play football', as if it would be wrong to credit the RTE analysts for seeing it before everyone else. Is there any limit to the arrogance and smugness of this man? The condescending nature of his weekly column is an insult to the sports fans who read it, and even to some sportspeople he praises in it.

In relation to some of the other items on Sweeney's list, even if the article was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I would suggest that, at the very least, when most sports journalists make comments they have the best intentions to offer honest insight and opinions. If he disagrees, Mr Sweeney should be capable of respecting a differing opinion to his own without resorting to sneering at them, even if he is fed up of hearing the same clichés over and over again.

Michael Dowling

Bertie pays his dues to the Blues

With reference to Eamonn Sweeney's article last week: 'No 30: Bertie Ahern is a fanatical fan of the Dubs. How else can you explain his willingness to make the long trek from Drumcondra to Croke Park at least three or four times a year.'

I don't like Bertie but he was at the Blue Stars games in Blanchardstown on New Year's Day and his face is regularly seen at Parnell Park for O'Byrne Cup and National League games.

Michael Donnelly

Sunday Indo Sport