Odds stacked against festive lift for on-course bookmakers

Sector pinning hopes for return to business on future coronavirus vaccine programme

The bookmaker sector is looking to spring 2021 and the prospect of festivals such as Fairyhouse and Punchestown. File Photograph: Inpho/Presseye/Jonathan Porter

Ireland’s on-course bookmakers admit they face a “grim” Christmas and are pinning their hopes for a return to business on a future extensive vaccine programme against coronavirus.

Absent from racetracks since March, even a likely best-case festive scenario of Level 2 Covid-19 restrictions being in place over Christmas won’t bring much festive joy to bookmakers.

Last month the Irish National Bookmakers Association (INBA) agreed with Horse Racing Ireland that up to three bookmakers could attend a fixture under a Level 2 scenario which would allow for up to 200 spectators to attend.

That system had applied for a couple of weeks in September when such attendance was restricted to owners with a horse running.


Whether that will apply once the current lockdown ends at the start of next month is unclear.

But even if it does the vast majority of the more than 80 INBA members will still not be able to work at one of the busiest times of the year.

"It's looking grim at the moment. If they go back to Level 2 I hope there's a possibility of letting some people back in at Leopardstown over Christmas. But it's only a hope and it seems a long, long way away based one where we are now," said INBA chairman Ray Mulvaney on Monday.

Not allowed go racing since March 24th, the bookmaker sector is instead looking to the spring and the prospect of the 2021 renewals of famous festivals such as Fairyhouse and Punchestown.

“I hope the vaccine is in place sometime in the spring and we can hope to get back to some normality,” said Mulvaney who warned, however, that racing can’t presume race goers will return in the same numbers as before.

“What’s important is when we go back will we be going back in numbers? Will the public want to go back where crowds are? I hope they will, but how long will it take? Sometimes the damage can have been done. People have new habits now, in all sports, and they can drop old habits. It’s a concern.

“I’m hoping when we do go back in numbers, and let’s hope it’s in the spring and with good weather, to Fairyhouse and to Punchestown, that we come back with a dynamic to get people back. I think our product is good and if we get back to the public domain, people will come back.”

Betfair Chase

Last year's winner Lostintranslation is favourite to retain his Betfair Chase title at Haydock on Saturday and as a result join an elite group of horses.

The quartet of Kauto Star, Silviniaco Conti, Cue Card and Bristol De Mai all won the first Grade One of the cross-channel season more than once.

Bristol De Mai is back for another crack at it alongside just four other entries left in on Monday, but bookmakers reckon Lostintranslation is the one to beat.

The small but select field also includes King George champion Clan Des Obeaux, but once again there is no Irish-trained contender involved.

Henry De Bromhead ruled out A Plus Tard from stepping up to three miles and instead his focus is likely to be on Thurles this Thursday when Monalee reappears in the Listed Boomerang Chase.

The Co Waterford trainer has outlined hopes for last season's Gold Cup fourth travelling to Kempton over Christmas for the King George, a race for which he is as low as 12-1 in some lists.

De Bromhead has four runners at Limerick on Tuesday and he needs one more success to reach 50 winners for the season.

The best of them could be in the bumper as Mind Your Money was first past the post at Fairyhouse last month only to lose the race in the stewards' room.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column