This weekend is another that gives a little pang in the stomach. It’s one of the big weekends on the Irish racing calendar. Another big meeting in front of empty grandstands, deserted betting rings and joyless winner’s enclosures, for many it’s becoming the norm, when it’s your livelihood it gets no easier. It’s a shame to wish your life away but I’d love to fast forward the next 6 months.

The Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown racecourse is a weekend that has it all. 2 of the best days national hunt racing one can dream of. There isn’t too many hard luck stories here. The cream usually rises to the top.

As an on course bookmaker there is often a long time between drinks. After a hectic Christmas we usually retreat back into the fox hole after New Year’s Day, only appearing here and there between early January and The Dublin Racing Festival , trying to ‘pinch’ a few bob here and there or in reality trying to hold on to what you have won at Christmas. Your instinct tells you to go for the jugular when you display the prices on your board for the first race on the Saturday of the Dublin Racing Festival, the place is usually heaving with people and there is copious amounts of money about, it’s very tempting to let rip. Your instinct isn’t always correct and letting loose on this particular weekend may not be a very clever decision. It’s a weekend that has to be approached with extreme caution from a layer’s point of view. I can tell you that from experience. Your pocket can often give you better advice than your instinct.

Christmas time is often a time to get a shock result, the first weekend of February is a different ball game. The Willie Mullins juggernaut is close to hitting peak speed at this time of year, Gordon Elliott’s team are getting stronger every year, Henry De Bromhead will chip in with a winner or two and Charles Byrnes will most likely win a lucrative handicap. This will most likely be the running order of the weekend. It would be great to see Noel Meade bag a winner or even a smaller trainer win a feature race. Joseph O Brien’s yard could do with a big weekend, by their high standards it’s been an abysmal national hunt season.

The 2018 DRF was the first time I realised that this weekend isn’t simple. Tower Bridge got us off to a great start, always important. Min, Footpad and Patricks Park turn what look competitive races into processions. Supasundae turns over Faugheen, a welcome reprieve. It doesn’t last long though as Mr.Byrnes executes his plan with Off You Go in the big handicap hurdle and Black Bow wins the bumper. Bad start…why did we look forward to this since Christmas???

This is when your bottle is tested as you have got to go out again the following day and try and win it back. Its high pressure, it’s not easy, I guess if it was everyone would do it.

5 races into the Sunday and we are 5-0 down. I hit the tally button on my computer for the first time and I gulp. On top of yesterday’s losses its heading for a doomsday scenario with the Irish Gold cup to go. Its always important not to show any panic, even if inside you know your back is to the wall. Our Duke runs poorly in the Gold Cup, my other loser in the race Kilultagh Vic falls at the last when going to win and Edwulf comes through to rescue us. He beats outlander a neck, that neck as it turns out was the difference between winning and losing for 2018. Small margins make huge differences. Last Goodbye and Relegate are two screamers to finish with that ensure we go home with more than we arrived with. That weekend gave me the fright of my life. I often think of it. It ensured a different approach to this weekend going forward.

2019 saw Apples Jade, Envoi Allen, Off You Go (again), Min, Le Richburg, Sassy Diva, Sir Eric, Klassical Dream, Dallas Des Pictons, La Bague Au Roi and Bellshill all win. In fact I would say most layers lost on nearly every race. Relentless.

2020 Latest Exibition, Chacun Pour Soi, Notebook, Honeysuckle, Thosedaysaregone, Appreciate It on day 1, with a few very welcome bookmaker friendly results on day 2.

The pattern is there for all to see. If you are having a bet this weekend my advice would be try not to be too clever. The most obvious winners will be staring straight at you. A good place to start will be Willie Mullins. Don’t look a whole pile further as a short priced winner will be better than a big priced hard luck story. I’ll miss the buzz of ducking and diving the dirty results. Sneaking out the gate winning when you maybe shouldn’t have is a satisfactory feeling. It’s a feeling I haven’t had for almost 12 month’s. I miss it and long for a return but for now I’m still stuck on the side lines. Days feel like month’s and month’s feel like years in these times, at least we have the racing to keep us entertained, even if it’s bitter sweet watching on from afar.

 My accume for the weekend is Energumene, Sharjah, Delta Work and Brandy Love.

Enjoy the action.

All the best,