We are halfway through the year – time flies when you’re having fun! If the previous two years felt painfully slow, the first six months of this year have been anything but slow. I haven’t done very many blogs so far this year for two reasons…

1. I haven’t had time – the routine this time of year is pretty hectic. 18 hour days are the norm and in spring time when I am juggling the breeding season with the mare’s it’s not uncommon to miss a nights sleep and keep going right through into the next day. It’s the adrenalin that gets me through – when you get involved in racing you better like it because it consumes your whole life!

2. The second reason I haven’t posted many blogs is I hadn’t a whole lot to say that would be of any interest on a day to  day basis – I felt giving it a few months and reporting back may be of more benefit!!

Dublin Racing Festival was our first day back to normality in two years and driving there almost felt surreal. We had done odd days here and there with crowd limits of 500 people, but they were really not financially viable. They were great to get to but were a short term fix. I was craving the big stage, the hustle and bustle of a jammed betting ring, the whispers, the characters and even the likeable rogues. To be honest the weekend went by in a complete blur. It wasn’t a bookmaker’s benefit, nor was it a disaster – I’d remember it very vividly if it was either! I remember driving home from Leopardstown on the Sunday evening and being very content. We were finally back and we were busy. First test post Covid and the team passed with flying colours.

I don’t stand in Gowran Park but my colleagues tell me Thyestes day is a roaring success. Eddie Scally the manager down there comes in for high praise any time the racecourse is mentioned in conversation. Maybe it’s a place we need to get a pitch – watch this space.

The signs are good. There is an air of positivity among the bookmakers. Is it a post lock down bubble or is it a long-term trend?  Only time will tell.

The next big meeting for us was the Irish Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse Racecourse. Easter Sunday was busy – the trend was continuing. Nothing could have prepared us for Easter Monday. The weather God’s smiled down on Fairyhouse and the day was beautiful. The business was incredible from start to finish. The wall of people that were coming into us was constant and the printers were firing out tickets at an incredible rate. The singing from the grandstand before the National wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea and I appreciate that but it was something I will never forget. The place was literally rocking. Days like this don’t happen by accident. The work Fairyhouse put in behind the scenes for it was huge. Peter Roe the manager there is a very approachable man who speaks to everybody weather it’s the champion trainer or casual race day staff. He has his finger on the pulse. A 50/1 winner of the big race was the cherry on top of an extraordinary weekend. Oh how I missed days like these over the last few years!!

The sheer volume of business at Fairyhouse had put a pep in my step for Punchestown. I was ready to take on the world however this game has a habit of bringing a person back down to earth with a bang. The crowds flowed into Punchestown but I never really felt like we got into the groove. Mighty Potter spung a huge shock on the Tuesday turning over both Sir Gerhard and Dysart Dynamo and while I won, I felt I didn’t get my quota. Bob Olinger pulls up but it’s another race where I don’t win enough. The tone was set for the week. I was the golfer who missed the 3 foot putt on the first and never recovered.

I’m still not quite sure where it went wrong for us in Punchestown. We won a few quid but business was poor. The crowds were massive. Maybe they are moving to other areas away from my pitch? The reserved enclosure was mobbed Thursday & Friday maybe that was the place to be. A slightly hollow feeling driving home. I should never be disappointed going home after making money but something wasn’t sitting quite rite with me and I hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come.

Roscommon, Ballinrobe, Kilbeggan & Sligo meetings get going and the business is steady. The early meetings at these tracks aren’t their busiest but they are holding up on par with previous year’s. That’s a relief. We are getting into the thick of it now and we are holding our own. The chest is out again and the smiles are back. Time for the first classics of the year…

The Curragh is like marmite – some love it, some hate it! I always approach the first classics of the year with great enthusiasm. The winter is officially over & the good flat racing starts. It’s usually ultra-competitive and over the years has rewarded us handsomely.

Native Trail collects the 2,000 guineas but I’m not convinced by him. Hopefully I get the chance to take him on later in the year. He’s not the star the hype machine makes him out to be – of that I’m sure. Business was only so-so, but Saturday’s can be hit & miss at times. Driving home myself and Dad tell each other tomorrow will be much busier. Are we trying to convince ourselves or do we really believe it? I’m not so sure.

Irish 1,000 Guineas day will be a day I won’t forget for a long time. Two group 1 races on the card and the Curragh was empty. Homeless Song destroyed the field and the sight of Chris Hayes coming back into the winners enclosure on her back to a faint clap was very sad. Dad informs me he’s heading home once they cross the finish line, he’s been a bookmaker for over 40 years, an owner for more than 20 and he’s a staunch supporter of Irish racing. I know he’s going home because he can’t bear this any longer. When people like him lose interest there’s a problem. It’s not a bookmakers problem, It’s much more than that. It’s a racing problem and one that needs to be rectified immediately. The drive home on my own that evening was strange – I didn’t make or lose money – when there’s not a sinner in the place you can’t do either.

Back to the western circuit where thankfully business is brisk – I would dread to think where we would be without them. Dad and I decide to sponsor a race at our local track in Roscommon this summer. Its good to give something back. I’d love to own a winner there some day – the plan is in motion but if it can be executed is another matter entirely!

Leopardstown Thursday nights have started and it appears they are focussing on attracting a crowd to 3 or 4 nights with a concert rather than all 8 during the summer meetings. The first few nights have been quiet. I’ll reserve judgement on them until the concert nights start but finger’s crossed, they improve. They need to.

The Derby meeting in the Curragh is the next big meeting on the calendar. I was shocked when I saw the gate admission price was 50 quid. I put out a post on Twitter critising this and it gathered big momentum. Unusually for once on social media, almost everybody agreed with me. I hate slating racing on Twitter hence why I stayed quiet after the Guineas meeting & the few quiet meetings in Leopardstown but I felt this was one I couldn’t ignore. I’m sure there’s a few people in the Curragh that were not overly impressed with me, but I sincerely hope they don’t think it was a cheap shot or a personal criticism. It was a genuine concern and one which proved to be accurate unfortunately. A crowd of just over 11,000 attended the big day. In 2015 the crowd was over 25,000. It’s a staggering decline in 7 years. If this trend continues in 14 years nobody will attend the Derby – food for thought. On the pitch – Friday was hopeless. Saturday’s business was extremely strong despite the small crowd. Results ebbed and flowed and we were on course for a really good day until Billy Lee decided to put a substantial dent in the days profits with an unbelievable ride on Bay of Bengal in the last. No complaints, we still come out in front and it was nice to be very busy. The less said about Sunday the better. Another soulless day in HQ unfortunately.

So that’s the first 6 months of the year over. A mixed bag. Some incredibly busy days and some bitterly disappointing days. My turn over is holding up, which is very important but I know there are challenges ahead. The economy is facing a little turbulence at the minute, but we’ll get through that. Racing is a wonderful game, but it has it’s issues. It’s been very good to me so I don’t like knocking it. However pretending all is rosy when it’s not is clearly not the solution. We don’t want to end up like greyhound racing in ten years’ time. Racing needs to reduce admission charges quite substantially if it wants to attract people back. The Curragh could also do with about 75% less security walking around in high vis jackets telling people where they can and can’t go. I believe the atmosphere would change for the better with that one small change.

Galway , Listowel and Champions weekend are around the corner. Massive meetings in the context of our year. Galway is the big one of the whole year. If we win there, we win for the year. Its as simple as that. Lose in Galway and the winter feels very, very long. I love that week more than any other. The pressure is unbelievable, but I thrive on it. Watching horses coming out of the dip in Ballybrit knowing the next 2 furlongs will decide if you spend 3 weeks in October on a beach somewhere warm or if you will spend it shovelling shit on the farm at home is not for everyone!! But I couldn’t wish to do anything else. Galway is special, always has been, always will be. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

See you on a racecourse somewhere soon,

Brian

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