Vinny keeps his fingers crossed as Angie goes to war
A sluggish start to the year sees Angie come up with a Cheltenham plan, writes RODDY L'ESTRANGE
The white and amber posters for Boru Betting’s Cheltenham campaign dotted the three great arteries on the north east of Dublin’s fair city.
That they were in place at all, Vinny Fitzpatrick suspected, was due to gentle arm-twisting by his wife Angie of her brother Gerry, a local sergeant and keen racegoer, who followed Ruby Walsh religiously at the festival.
Strategically tethered close to the bus stops lining the Clontarf, Howth and Malahide Roads – that had been Vinny’s idea – they reminded the portly bus driver of election time. Now, however, the promise was more immediate.
The gospel read: “Don’t miss Boru Betting’s Unbeatable Cheltenham Specials, Tuesday, March 5.”
It was a calculated gamble to draw punters from Dublin 3 and Dublin 5 into the gambling den at the foot of Vernon Avenue, and convince them to part with their Cheltenham stockpile.
Like all gambles, it could back-fire. If it did, the consequences for the ailing betting shop were potentially dire.
Vinny had been taken aback by Angie’s grim update of the business she had been part of for almost 30 years, rising from gawky teenage teller to svelte, sexy, manageress.
Twice, Boru Betting won Shop of the Year, a coveted award chosen by the Irish Bookmakers Association, and Angie had been a poster girl for the industry – she’d once appeared on the front cover of Business and Finance wearing silks, jodphurs and a whip.
That was in the late 1990s, when folk had lots of spare cash in their pockets and betting online was almost unheard of.
As 2013 stretched its arms and embraced spring – the world of betting was an altered animal and turnover in January and February, generally sluggish months for Boru Betting, was down 15 per cent on the previous year and there was increased pressure from Winston’s head office in London to deliver.
“The face of the business is changing by the day, love, and we have to change with it, or we’ll wither,” explained a worried Angie. “More and more of our customers are betting on-line on their laptops, iPads and mobiles. They are also switching to the exchange firms like Betfair and Betdaq and away from high street bookies like us. I need a big push for Cheltenham, and I need you to help. Here’s my plan.”
Where Cheltenham was concerned, Vinny was yer man. With gusto, he’d barked out a request for volunteers from Foley’s and had rounded up the troops in the car park opposite Boru Betting, for a Saturday morning gallop.
Charlie St John Vernon, who was loaded, had generously done up 150 posters for free; Macker’s mates arrived in a fleet of taxis – two for each of the main roads – and the worker bees had clocked in, among them Fran, Brennie, Kojak, Spider, Big Dave and Two-Mile Borris. They were armed with ladders, plastic tags and bundles of enthusiasm.
Posters on tight
“Lads, make sure the posters are on tight. We’ve only got a few days before the anti-gambling lobby start ringing in to Joe Duffy. And this time when he says: ‘I’ve a woman on from Clontarf’, he’ll mean it.”
Over the weekend, and right up to Monday night, Angie kept herself busy, compiling offers for her Super Tuesday to tempt even the stingiest punter. Against Vinny’s wishes, she had decided to go to war against the formidable stable of Willie Mullins, the most powerful National Hunt trainer in the land, and the most successful Cheltenham raider of recent years.
Angie had scoured the prices being offered by her competitors and was trumping them. Hurricane Fly, best priced 9/4 for the Champion Hurdle, was on offer at 3/1. She went Sir Des Champs 6/1 for the Gold Cup, Pont Alexandre 4/1 for the Neptune Hurdle.
It was madness, thought Vinny, and it got worse. Angie was offering evens on Mullins training four or more winners at the festival and 9/4 to be top trainer – no-one else was higher than 7/4.
As he scanned the offers, Vinny could feel his fingers and toes tingle; there was money to be made here.
A part of Vinny wanted to scream at Angie and warn her she was taking a high-risk strategy but this was his wife’s roll of the dice, her livelihood, and he knew better than to interfere.
As Tuesday dawned, Angie and Vinny were at Boru Betting at nine bells along with Craig Carruthers, her long-serving right-hand man, and the tellers, Mikey and Babs, whose giggling suggested to Vinny they were not long out of the same bed.
Vinny, who’d taken a day’s holiday, had agreed to work the floor, dealing with queries and ushering punters towards the tills.
“Best foot forward, team,” said Angie, who was done up to the nines. “Keep the teas and coffees topped up, the sambos and wraps fresh. Don’t forget to smile and thank anyone who places a bet, whether it’s for €2 or €200.”
It was the longest of days, and almost 12 hours passed before Vinny and Angie collapsed in a quiet corner of Foley’s, well away from the Champions League action.
In terms of PR, the numbers of bodies present, and the amounts of money wagered, the day had been a huge success for Boru Betting.
The little shop had been jammers at lunchtime, and again between five and half seven as punters queued to get inside before tearing into the Cheltenham Specials.
Liabilities on Willie Mullins’ runners were massive, so much so Vinny reckoned wins for Hurricane Fly and Sir Des Champs, who were lumped together in countless doubles, would probably scuttle Boru Betting.
Vinny feared for his wife’s sanity should that happen, only he didn’t let it show. As Angie raised a large gin and tonic, and gave her husband a conspiratorial wink which suggested the night held wondrous possibilities, it struck the bus driver that his wife was a far greater risk-taker than he ever would be. For that, he cherished her even more.
Bets of the week
1pt win First Lieutenant in Gold Cup (22/1, Betfair)
1 pt each-way Countrywide Flame in Champion Hurdle (16/1, Boylesports)
2pts lay My Tent Or Yours in Supreme Novices Hurdle (6/4, William Hill, liability 3pts)