9.30 PM Sunday February 7th, the phone begins to ring. What price is Tyreek Hill to get the first touch down? It rings again shortly afterwards, another customer ‘I want to back Mahomes and Brady to have 260 + passing yards each?’ The phone rings frequently for roughly an hour and a half with all sorts of enquiries about the Super Bowl. For many, phone calls like this on a Sunday night would be a pain in the back side. For me, it’s a relief, it gives me an opportunity to try and earn a few quid but more importantly it gives me a sense of purpose, which to be honest I’ve been lacking for the best part of a year.

My great grandfather, John Keenan was a very successful bookmaker. My father has been a bookmaker all his life. He built his own business from scratch from a young age. I’m sure he would have preferred for my sake if I went on to have a career in another profession such as medicine or law, but deep down he must have known it was unlikely. Spending my school holidays sweeping up in his betting shop, graduating to marking the board and finally getting to serve customers behind the till made me a short price to forge my own career in the betting industry. I agreed to go to university, but I knew from the outset that I was passing time there. I wanted to be laying bets, making money, immersing myself in this magical world that so many find abnormal but it’s all I’ve ever known. I walked out of my final exam in University College Dublin in 2012 and went to work in Kilbeggan Racecourse that evening. When your born and reared into this world it’s the natural thing to do.

The Super Bowl being the big betting event of the day should be a wakeup call to all within racing. Regular readers of my blog know how deeply passionate I am about racing, especially Irish racing. The Dublin Racing festival has the ability to be the only show in town on this weekend but it’s not grabbing the public’s attention as much as it should. Willie Mullins flexed his muscles last weekend in Leopardstown and won 9 of the 14 races, an extraordinary feat even by his own lofty standards. Where were the competition? Gordon Elliott is hoovering up all the expensive young equine talent in Ireland and England for the last number of years but apart from the juvenile hurdle he was largely anonymous at the weekend. He’s too good of a trainer not to bounce back from this slump. If he’s deliberately avoiding running his top horses at this meeting, I’d be interested to hear his reasons for it. He still has to face the WP Mullins army in Cheltenham and if he’s as intent on becoming champion trainer as he so frequently states in his interviews, giving WP a solo at this weekend makes it game, set and match before we even get to the spring festivals. The Dublin Racing Festival needs stars like Envoi Allen and for Elliott to get to his arch rival’s level these are the races he needs to be winning. If you’re a prospective owner with a large budget to spend on horses who would you choose to invest with after watching the action this weekend? There is only one answer. I’m not quite sure what’s happening down at the hill at the minute but the wheels appear to have come off the wagon. A handicap winner for Joseph O Brien was the sole return from Leopardstown. Not good enough for such a big operation. Similar can be said for others. It was great to see Pat Fahy and Paul Hennessy get on the score board, it gives all the smaller men and women in the game a belief that someday that will be them. The weekend was all about Willie Mullins and his team and deservedly so. However, for the Dublin racing festival to capture the public imagination and also to generate a betting interest we need it to be more competitive. The UK trainers wont travel and that doesn’t appear like it’s going to change any time soon. They prefer to moan about poor prize money and make excuses for not running horses rather than bring their best over here for lucrative races. The concept of the whole weekend is too good for it not to be a success. It’s a great weekend but it has the potential to be so much better.

The Charles Byrnes appeal was heard today. We are still awaiting the verdict. It’s not up to me to play judge and jury on the case however I find it very frustrating the company that provided the platform for these lay bets have still not provided a name of who laid the horse. Hiding behind a cobbled together excuse of a white label company is a load of rubbish and has been accepted far too easily. If the man in the foreign land isn’t named this case won’t be solved. I’d imagine the man in the foreign land is a lot closer to home than we are led to believe. The pundits, ambassadors, journalists etc. on the Betfair pay roll that haven’t called them out or that have absolved Betfair of any blame have lost all credibility as far as I’m concerned. This firm have serious questions to answer as they facilitated the whole fiasco.

Finally, a note to my fellow bookmakers and their staff as we approach the grim milestone of 12 months without setting foot on a racecourse. I have spoken to some of my colleagues on the phone recently and I get the sense of real desperation and anxiety building. Very few people fully appreciate what we are going through at the present time. We have been completely abandoned by government. Every time we see former minister for health Simon Harris come on social media with a patronising ‘we’re all in it together’ video or the current Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, spoofing his way through reasons they aren’t rolling out the vaccine, the knot in our stomach gets even tighter. When our leaders decide to focus attention on minimal numbers of people flying into Dublin airport so that their own shortcomings on the vaccine roll out aren’t highlighted, we know that this isn’t a government that is going to support business and people who have worked all their lives to provide for their families. Getting people back to live sporting events isn’t very high up their list of priorities. They don’t seem to care, and currently we are in a pretty lonely place, the people who have a lust for lockdown and accept it all seem to forget the anxiety, stress, upset and worry many of my colleagues and their staff are currently going through. We will pull through; this will end but there’s going to be casualties along the way. We need to keep our spirits up as best we can and look out for one and other as it doesn’t look like anyone else is going to help. Mind yourselves and pick up the phone for a chat if your ‘having one of those days’. It’s amazing how a chat can lift the spirits.

P.S, Hill didn’t get the first touch down, and Mahomes had a night to forget. Tampa are my new favourite NFL team! Hopefully next year the main betting event of the day will be Envoi Allen and Monkfish in the Irish Gold Cup rather than Super Bowl. Now that would be a clash to look forward to.

All the best,