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Punchestown Festival Tuesday 30/04/24 with AK Bets


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The plane from Bristol to Dublin was packed this morning, many of the passengers were racing people, some that I knew and others that I didn't but obviously buzzing for the day's racing, despite the early start. Of the people I did know, I was surprised to see a chap known as 'The Country Cad' in attendance. His knowledge of the form book is only surpassed by his stylish dressing, he was in top form sipping designer drinks still basking in his Cheltenham Champion tipster triumph. His companions were doyens of the Westcountry betting ring though may not wish to be named. Other notables included a bookmaker, racehorse owning van seller and well-connected Peter, I was in good company. 

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I was picked up at the airport by Dave O'Reilly, head of AK Bets PR department, greyhound racing commentator at Mullingar, star of Gogglebox Ireland and celebrated celebrant, an all round good guy. AK couldn't collect me himself as he was still in the UK on business when I touched down but assured me he'd be there for the first. That first was at 2.30pm so I had plenty of time to get reconnected with the AK team on course and some of the friendly bookmaking community. AK's on-course firm today was Dave Tidler, the aforementioned Dave O'Reilly, Desmond White and Graham Sullivan with AK and AK senior due to complete the ranks at any moment. 

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The opening Kildare Hunt Club Cross Country Chase For The Ladies Perpetual Cup was a steady betting heat which to be fair didn't really come to life. The punters didn't get stuck in at all into a race where Three By Two and Casey West were sent off 4/1 joint-favourites in a field of 16. The lads got to work the best they could but field money was poor for a festival. The biggest thing of note in the race was that the AK's were late on parade. They turned up as the horses were approaching the second last, having mistakenly thought that the first was 3.30 instead of 2.30. See punters, the bookies can get it wrong, even the shrewdest. By the time the guys had laughed off their rick they were rewarded with a victory by 20/1 chance Knockeil Synge which copped €2000 in the book which was a handy start. 

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Next up was the Full Circle Series Final Handicap Hurdle in which 23 horses went to post and Montregard was sent off the 9/2 favourite having been well-backed from 6/1 early. It was a busier race than the opener but despite the number of runners there wasn't much strength in depth and wagers were still relatively modest. The biggest single bet was €2000 - €200 each-way Billy Lee Swagger. That money was inspired, but only from a place point of view, staying on to finish fourth. Luckily, he stayed on to finish fourth behind 16/1 chance Tune In A Box. The winner had been 25/1 in places when the betting opened, but the punters missed AK out, so subsequently the firm copped another €2800. Things were shaping up nicely. 

Dave and Graham were having fun trying to get the punters in for the KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle, they were shouting to the punters offering Dave O'Reilly 'Bobble Head' dolls for sale. Now these dolls obviously don't exist, yet, but they did attract attention. Now, I'm doubtful if the sort of punter that had €4000 - €1600 Slade Steel would be tempted in by such gimmicks, he certainly wasn't put off and had the bet. Other money of a more modest size added up and ensured the gelding would go off losing €8000 at the off. AK and the boys had to briefly sweat two out as the bogie looked to be going well, but allowed themselves a cheer when Mystical Power won the race and copped another €2300 for the book. They were only quiet cheers though as the winner retuned 2/1 favourite so would have been a loser for many of their neighbours so discretion was required. 

AK was cautious about the Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle, he told me that it was a race he didn't like the look of and didn't really want to get too involved in. The firm were just tapping away accordingly when some people came to the back of the joint to talk to AK who was clerking the computer. He doesn't have to put the bets in, the lads do that, but he is in charge of the prices. As he was chatting to his pals behind the joint, he didn't see the move on Daddy Long Legs and the subsequent pile up of liabilities amounting to  €8500 at the off. There were 24 runners so he had to hope for the best, but the best horse in the race proved to be Daddy Long Legs which bolted up landing what looked like a fair old touch. The firm were now behind and AK was annoyed with himself. Standing one when he doesn't want to isn't his game. 

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Next up was the Goffs Defender Bumper. Blow me if it didn't happen again, AK can't help it if he's a popular chap and people want to chat with him, but bookmaking is a serious business and yet more people came up for a yap. He was chatting away when a punter had €5500 - €1000 each-way Garahon, wasn't paying attention when caught napping with Kobalt St Georges and then missed the big prices Stateofenlightment going. Even worse, he fell for another grand each-way bet the bogie Garahon, this time at 9/2. Now, when I started working in the betting ring, my first boss was the sage like Jack Lynn, a D-Day veteran with many sayings, most of them very rude. One that wasn't was a loudly barked 'Don't talk to the clerk' when someone tried to, great advice for any bookmaker, even today, Jack knew...

Luckily the punters didn't, very few backed the winner 10/1 chance Sermandzarak, and even better Garahon was well out of the frame. 'We're back' was AK's summing up of the race after copping €6500 on it, but he wasn't triumphant knowing he'd got away with it this time after paying the price the previous heat. The feature race was the Champion Steeplechase in which Dino Blue was well-backed and sent off the 11/10 favourite, bets included €1750 for the jolly at the price as well as plenty of public money but not bundles. The race was won by 6/1 chance Banbridge which was the 'worst winner' in the book but still won €1500 which is of course very handy.

The penultimate was the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase where Monty's Star opened 9/4 favourite and Spillane's Tower was the 7/2 second-in. Over on the rail Desmond, Tidler and AK senior said that business had slowed somewhat. Back in the main ring pitch it was anything but quiet. The punters were smashing into Spillane's Tower and did so from 7/2 into 5/2. There were enough €300 and €200 bets at 7/2 for AK to cut the price accordingly but was then walloped with a bet of €5000 - €2000 right in the hole from a chap that appeared to be going down the line having the same sized bets. Well, what can I say, cover your eyes if tales of bookies doing their cobblers upsets you. At the off Spillane's Tower was losing €9000 in the book, and that's what he cost the firm when winning by three quarters of a length at the line. Gutting. 

There really wasn't much hope of getting it all back in the concluding Haier Flat Race despite Willie saddling Unknown Entity the even money favourite. There were some decent bets flying about including €1600 - €400, €1200 - €300 each-way and €3333 - €1000 over Colcannon, €285 each-way Broderick and decent money for Putapundinthejar at 16/1 though not an awful lot for the jolly. We were rushing out to the carpark when 14/1 chance Sixandahalf won the race, he had been 20/1 early but the punters left AK out, small mercies to get some back on a losing day, especially as Colcannon was runner up albeit a distant one. That concluded a bad opening day which could maybe have been avoided or not been quite so bad had Jack's advice been heeded, remember racegoers, 'Don't talk to the clerk!' 

We're back tomorrow. Sorry for the late blog, it wasn't even plain sailing for me, I write the report as the day goes along as always, but today, my phone suddenly deleted the whole lot at race six, a bugger of a day all round. Still, there's always tomorrow.

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Simon Nott 

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