Punchestown 2023 Review

Last Sunday as I boarded a plane to go and see my beloved Manchester United in an FA cup semi final, I was bidding on a pitch over the phone for Punchestown. After plenty of back and forth I got the deal over the line and it was confirmed that we would be working 2 pitches, our original one and the newly acquired one at the upcoming festival. By the time the train pulled into Wembley stadium, staff, equipment etc was all organised.

Punchestown is a big festival for all oncourse bookmakers, one that gets circled in the calender early in the year and we look forward to it with anticipation. Dublin Racing Festival , Easter, Derby, Galway , Listowel, Champions Weekend , Christmas.  That’s the set pattern. The important meetings where there’s potential to earn significant money. Its important they go well. They define our year.

Day 1 of the festival is generally the quietest day of the week. We have 1 pitch in the main betting ring and 1 in the reserved enclosure. Business is sluggish to start but it does pick up slowly but surely as the day goes on. We get off to a bad start, Facile Vega does his best to demolish the 3rd last and still wins in a common canter. Business might have started sluggish but we are still 4 grand behind after 2 races. Not the ideal start. Big field handicap next where we don’t lose is a result. I hate those races. They cause me anxiety! 3,500 at 2/7 Energumene is the first bet we lay to an English customer in the reserved enclosure. He’s very thankful that we accommodated his bet, he informs us he struggles to get his bet’s on recently and as a result he’s falling out of love with the game. It’s food for though. Racing cant afford to lose it’s core audience. Without them the house of cards crumples. Literally. Energumene jumps desperate and looks in real trouble, unfortunately for us its Chacun Pour Soi, one of the weakest finishers in training that’s in a battle with him and Energumene grinds out the victory. It’s a 6 grand swing. Little did we realise this was only the  beginning. Break even in the landrover bumper and we swiftly move on to the next grade 1 on the card. Feronlily doesn’t go unbacked, I was determined to keep him onside but it wasn’t easy. 500 ew on a debit card at 13/2 is laid in the reserved enclosure pitch. Theres plenty of 7/1 available elsewhere but I get greedy and don’t hedge , it drives me into the others but the level of business isn’t there. I win a couple of hundred on the race and I am disappointed with myself. I felt I could and should have played better. We win a grand on the Ladies Cup, the winner isn’t missed in the market. Another race where I feel we don’t get our quota. A very very shrewd chap who was working with another bookmaker beside me backs Angelo Dundee in the bumper early at 16/1. Card marked. I get rid of it all, start from scratch and make sure I’m 2 points below the rest with Angelo. Some people’s money I respect greatly. This person is certainly one of them. Angelo wins well and it’s a good result for us.

Day 1 is over. We come out a couple of grand in front but on another day it could have been so much better. Atmosphere and business not great. I hope both improve as the week goes on.

Day 2 kicks off with another of those poxy handicaps that I hate. 7/1 the field. No damage done thankfully. Sandor Clegane ducks the grade 1 challenge and wins a lesser race rather easily to leave me slightly behind after 2. Atmosphere and business are sluggish again. Where are all the people!? Grangeclare west dances in. Maybe its no harm business isn’t brisk – still we’re well behind after 3. Regular followers of mine on social media will know im Gaelic Warriors biggest fan. Being his biggest fan didn’t stop me from being wreckless on this occasion however. An opening bet of 800 ew laid on Salvador Ziggy at 6/1 was the beginning of it. I went evens Gaelic W and we were nearly knocked over. Just quite what was going through my head I don’t know. He would have beaten this lot with his 2 back legs tied together. I’m in a hole now that I’m unlikely to get out of. Bad results, erratic bookmaking, it’s a frustrating game. It’s not just punters who chase their money when they are losing.

Next up is the Gold Cup. 250 ew Fast or Slow at 25/1 is the very first bet we lay. I check with our other pitch that its correct and not a mistake and they assure me its correct. I don’t think he has a hope so am glad of the bet. I wasn’t so smug 25 minutes later when he causes the shock of the week. I break even on the race. The other bookmakers are breathing a sigh of relief. I’m sick. What a cock up. Frustration gets the better of me and I take on A Dream To Share for way too much in the Champion Bumper. It dances in. 5 figure sum behind and my head is in a tizzy. I really don’t fancy Ha dór in the handicap , he’s a horrible free going type and he’s a ridiculous short price but my confidence is gone. I actually have a decent winning race but if I was on form and doing things well this week I’d have really made that race count. Atleast it’s a winning race I tell myself but the reality is I’m still reeling from earlier bad decisions. 800 ew Junta Marvel at 9/2 caps off a bad day at the office, despite standing Fun Fun Fun for plenty we win buttons on the race. I cant get out of the place quick enough. There’s very little said on the way home.

Day 3 starts off on a positive note for me, 2 mares that have been tricky to get in foal all spring scan in foal. Farm work going better than the racecourse this week atleast!

Yesterday is firmly forgotten about, we’ve losses to recoup so we head off like we do everyday fully believing we can have a good day. Broomfield Bijou wins the first , beating his market rival a snout. I had gotten away without doing damage in these rotten handicaps the first 2 days but my luck had run out this time. Bad start to the day. Dino Blue wins easily beating her market rival in the second. 2 races in and we are behind the black ball again. The fun was only beginning. A customer using a debit card has 3k on Vital Island at 10/3. Blow out. Im the only bookmaker silently urging Stealty Tom home. Can this week get any worse? It sure can.

3 k at 10/3 Klassical Dream ensures hes my absolute worst in the stayers hurdle. He wins, just. My head is spinning. The realisation hits me that there’s no winning now. Just don’t turn the loss into a telephone number. I go for a walk for a few minutes, clear the head. Bookmakers are frantically borrowing cash from each other. Kilbeg King wins the handicap to get us a few quid back. We never win enough in those races for the liabilities we have hence my utter hatred for them. 7 k at 2/7 El fabiolo twice is laid in the novice chase. He wins as he likes, I’ve worked hard at getting a reputation as someone who lays a reasonable bet. Weeks like this make me wish punters would leave me out!!! Thankfully I’ve had the sense to hedge half of it. We only lose small on the race but its frustrating how uncompetitive the racing is. Indy Belle is a decent winner for us but we are fortunate, Queen Jane crashes out at the last and she’s our worst possible result. First bounce of the ball all week. My Klassical dream Punter returns for his winnings and has an even 6 k on Ballyburn. The rest is history. Its time to wave the white flag. I leave the racecourse frustrated. Annoyed at the lack of competition, annoyed at myself, annoyed at the whole bloody week.

Day 4 is historically the busiest day of the week, unfortunately for me I’m out of the race , I cant win for the week so its damage limitation. I have a smashing colt foal by Order Of St George born on the farm this morning. A great start to the day and much needed morale boost.

25/1 winner of the first , is the comeback on?! We hold money and make the result count. Lets hope it continues. Kilcruit gets a freebie , wins as he wants and we are back to square one. That was short lived. Impervious wins as she wants. We don’t stand her for too much thankfully. Betting is brisk but I’ve retreated into my shell. Im rattled. 2 grand down after 3 races all the same.

4/11 Stateman and I feel relatively safe at that as I can see plenty of 2/5 available. 4 k at 4/11 and 2 k at 4/11 are laid. Punters appear to be recycling our money so they don’t care what price they are taking. Stateman jumps out unchallenged and wins as he likes. Its not even funny now, even some of our regular punters are joking with us offering us interest free loans ! We have to keep the brave front up but deep down Im hurting, this week will leave a scar for a long time.

Impaire et pass wins as he likes in the end despite looking in trouble at one point in the race.I  Lose 300 on it. Even the punters are bored of winning now! Its on the line wins the hunters to give us half a result but Monbeg Park undoes any gains that are made in the following race. Walk away Harry gives us our best result of the week in the last to end things on a good note. Its still a bad losing day.

Day 5 has arrived and all I want to do is get through It without losing any more. Subset gets us off to a start. Aione clings on in the handicap chase but he’s only a small loser, its dawned on me that this Mullins fella can train so I decide to keep his horses on side if I can at all. Echoes in rain dances in at 13/8 but she’s only a taker. Love Envoi is my big loser. Brideswell lad is a good old fashioned result and we win 4 grand on the race. Im enjoying myself for the first time in 4 days and making better books because of it. Lossiemouth wins easily , we lose 700 on the race. The bigger punters must have gone to the bar. 1 k on Seddon at 7/1 from a chap who claims to be his owner gets the ball rolling in the next, the betting is lively but unfortunately for me my worst wins it under a good ride from Ben Harvey. John Mc Connell is a trainer that has done nothing but enhance his reputation this season. He certainly knows the time of day. We get a screamer in the bumper to ensure we win for the day.

Punchestown 2023 was a very challenging week. I’m glad I didn’t do a blog day by day as God only knows what I may have said in the white heat of battle! It’ll take some time to get over it but we were back in Sligo today and it was great to be back out so soon doing what we do best. The national hunt season was brilliant but the lack of competition is a big concern going forward. Willie Mullins was winning grade 1s while Gordon Elliott was winning the charity race. That’s the reality and its sobering. What must Gordons biggest owners have been thinking this week? They hardly had any runners never mind winners. Building for the future doesn’t wash in professional sport, instant success is demanded. Graham Potter found that out at Chelsea, Eddie Jones like wise with the English Rugby team. Other big trainers also failed to show up when it mattered most. Irish Racing needs these guys to show up and be competitive on the biggest stage to keep the product exciting. Selfishly, I need them to show up to keep the product competitive.

Willie Mullins is a master of his trade. His ability to nurture talent both equine and human is remarkable. Many raised eyebrows when Willie publicly criticised his jockey Paul Townend on multiple occasions at the Dublin Racing Festival. Paul was poor on a couple of high profile horses Lossiemouth, Facile Vega , Historique Reconence etc and didn’t ride to the standard expected of a man with his ability and in his position. I’m sure there are reasons for it that we will never know be it injury, loss of confidence, complacency or something else but WP felt the need to go nuclear with his criticism so publicly. He knew exactly what he was doing and got the desired response from his main man who rode better than ever at the big spring festivals after the public dressing down. A master at work.

Now it’s time to concentrate on the flat, here’s to a great summer of racing ahead!

See you on course soon

All the best,