2021 Racecourse Review

2021 has drawn to a close, and like many of you I am not too sorry to see the back of it. I generally wouldn’t want to be wishing my life away, but it was a frustrating year as an On Course Bookmaker. The first 6 months of the year we were on the side lines. Watching Cheltenham and Punchestown behind closed doors was surreal. As someone who watches racing 7 days a week, it was great to have some high quality action to watch but it’s just not the same. Football was similar. The enjoyment factor of the European championships went up several levels once the stadiums began to fill up in summertime. Slowly racing began to return to some form of normality in July and it was just so good to be back at work. Below are a few thoughts on which tracks surprised me in both good and bad ways during 2021. Which tracks need to do better, and which one’s are top of the class.

Top of the Class :

Galway

Despite a farcical crowd limit of 1,000 spectators at the summer festival, which was imposed by the Irish government, the team at Galway managed to create a really nice atmosphere in Ballybrit. There is no other week like it in Irish Racing and even though it wasn’t the Galway we know, there was still a special feel to it. Business was brisk, punters and bookmakers were happy to be back doing battle and for 1 week, it felt like there was more to life than the covid pandemic. That Galway team should be very proud of all their efforts in what must have been extremely challenging and frustrating circumstances.

Most improved:

The Curragh Racecourse was a very pleasant surprise this year, the whole place was compact – the bar, betting ring, parade ring etc were all very close together which made for a lovely atmosphere on race day. The staff at the course led by Pat Keogh were always a pleasure to deal with and it was a joy to be in such a nice place working. The Enclosure itself looked a million dollars all the way through the season and was a credit to all involved. Favourable results and decent weather played were a huge help to us also! I’m pretty certain 2021 is the year when locals have reconnected with The Curragh.

Constantly Overachieving:

Ballinrobe and Roscommon. The locals just love their racing. The appetite for it never ceases to amaze. I highly recommend a visit to either track on a summers evening, I promise you wont regret it. Both tracks went above and beyond this summer to ensure paying patrons had as many facilities available to them as possible, other tracks of similar size could learn an awful lot from both of these western tracks.

Disappointment :

Kilbeggan. Never welcomed the paying public at all during 2021. Using public funds down through the years to develop the place and then not welcoming the public to use those facilities isn’t good enough in my opinion. No racecourse should be ran as a private boys club. It has always been a great little track but I hope the short sighted view taken there this year hasn’t harmed long term relations with their local crowd.

Must do better:

Leopardstown. It pains me to say this as its my favourite track in the country. Running the Christmas festival behind closed doors seemed to be a cop out in my honest view. Large retailers like Tesco and Dunnes didn’t have to close their shops during their busy period because of a covid outbreak and I am sure they had plenty of them. Well ran organisations find ways to deal with problems. Leopardstown ran from their problem rather than dealing with it. Announcing that it was behind closed doors at 2pm on Christmas eve was a total shambles and a total lack of respect to stake holders. We have a six figure sum invested in pitches on the racecourse, had staff lined up and ready to go for the week and to find out on Twitter that it was not happening was bitterly disappointing. I hope it’s a once off from Leopardstown because it should be so much better than that. Stake holders, sponsors, and loyal racing fans deserve a lot more.

Special Mention

INPBA (Irish National Professional Bookmakers Association), AIR (Association of Irish Racecourses) and HRI (Horse Racing Ireland) have come together and agreed working protocols for 2022 for all On Course Bookmakers.  A lot of hard work went into these talks and an agreement was reached which satisfied all sides. I wish to place on record my appreciation to all sides who worked hard to make this happen. Together many things can be achieved which are mutually beneficial for all parties. I hope this is the beginning of a new era of positive relations between the three bodies.

I’m looking forward to 2022 with huge enthusiasm. The challenges that 2021 brought sometimes felt like they couldn’t be overcome but we are still here to tell the tale! We are a small team, but everyone on it plays a vital role. Without good people no business would survive in this environment but we are fortunate in this regard. Without punters there would be no On Course Bookmakers.

To all of you who bet with us during 2021, I want to thank you sincerely. The aim for 2022 is to continue to improve the service we offer punters on Irish Racecourses.

Wishing you and you’re loved ones a happy and healthy New Year.

All the best,

Brian