Here’s Irish racing’s problem. I have a pal – I know, hard to believe – who likes the gee-gees. But what he really loves is a bet. His idea of bliss is to sit down in front of the telly and bet on the exchanges. And here’s the thing. He will bet on whatever you like: But not Irish racing. And the reason is simple – he doesn’t trust it.
The result is that his preferred way of betting is at night when the kids have gone to bed and he can concentrate on the American stuff.
It doesn’t matter if it is Parx, Belmont or Tampa. He has all the form and workouts available at the click of a button, masses of information on the various racing websites and a few minutes of betting shows and analysis on the telly. Most important of all he also has the feeling he isn’t being taken for a mug.
Not that he is delusional: it’s remarkable how often a markedly-backed horse in the race wins in the US. By its nature, there is always someone in the horse game willing to seek out and exploit an edge. But my pal has calculated he has a chance of at least breaking even, working purely on figures, form and instinct.
The idea of being able to do the same thing with the racing on his own doorstep works better than laughing gas. Maybe in the top races on the big days he will chance a few quid but it’s with no enthusiasm. And as for the everyday stuff, well, that’s just gas.
By their very nature, punters believe the worst: often because they want to, because it’s easier than admitting they themselves have made a hames of something.
But even with the best will in the world, it’s hard not to feel dismay when a rational, intelligent punter comes to the conclusion that betting on non-descript rubbish up to six thousand miles away is a better option than wagering here.
Arguing that tarring all the product with one brush is not very sensible hasn’t shaken his prejudice yet and it isn’t likely to either any time soon judged by the carve-ups that continue to crop up here. In fact what’s exceptional now is when one “gets away” and some carefully formulated handicapping plans go astray.
The very nature of handicaps actively encourages messing but the argument goes that they’re the backbone of the industry in terms of horse numbers, which in turn impacts on employment, which is the basis for the government money.
So nothing is likely to change any time soon, especially since regulation is so low down the list of priorities.
But it will be fascinating to see how many other on-line punters like my pal vote with their keyboards whenever this long-awaited government legislation on gambling comes into force.
It would be naïve to think the big bookmaker chains won’t be manipulating things. The Voler La Vedette debacle for Betfair at Christmas illustrated how much of the exchange market works off automation.
But there remains a sizable casual constituency who play the exchanges and bet by phone purely for kicks. How many of them have pal’s attitude? More importantly is anything likely to change that attitude any time soon?
But little things can change. Leopardstown is apparently keen on putting some organisation on its pre-Cheltenham gallops which take place after racing in a couple of weeks time.
Usually an extremely popular session with punters it was noticeably badly attended by trainers last year. Many punters felt short-changed, especially since some star names did use the track to gallop in the days afterwards.
Leopardstown’s authorities reportedly want trainers to play ball this time, give details of the horses working, maybe even putting name cloths on them.
It’s a little thing in the overall scheme but little things add up. And this reveals an attitude that can only be helpful.