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Punchestown Festival Wednesday 01/05/24 with AK Bets

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Today’s day at the races started a little later than yesterdays, at least for me. I had to meet AK at AK Bets HQ a half an hour walk from my hotel which was completed in glorious sunshine, another improvement on yesterday. When I arrived AK was on a business call and said he’d only be about ten minutes. You’d not want to be desperate outside a toilet with AK within given how long those 10 minutes lasted. Still business is business, we were still on course by 1.45pm so earlier than yesterday. The teams today were AK senior and Dave O’Reilly with AK on the computer, don’t talk to the clerk. Over on the rail senior rank of the betting ring Desmond White, footballing legend Tidler with Graham Sullivan on the computer. The guys were already getting stuck into the first when we arrived.

That first was the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap where Walk Away Harry was a well-backed 2/1 chance. AK was happy to take a chance despite the connections. Bets included €1000 x 2, €950, €750, €1300 and €300 all at 2/1, the jolly was backed pretty much to the exception of anything else to serious money. At the off the lopsided book was leaning to the weight of a €10,000 liability over the market leader. The gamble paid off when Harsh won the race at 17/2, the jolly, returned 7/4, was way down the field in 11th. The book had held €6900 and copped €5100, a great start to the day. AK is taking his rapidly expanding workforce out tonight, that should just about cover it.

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Between races I bumped into some familiar faces from the UK, Lofty and Andy Smith were there and expected. Who I didn’t expect were Richard, Jill and Clive who are regulars at The Mount Pleasant pub, two miles from where I live so had to get a mention. The lure of the Irish turf is a hard one to resist and reaches wide it seems, though in Richard’s case might be short headed by the lure of the Guinness. Next up and The Connolly’s Red Mills Hurdle where Blizzard Of Oz was opened 6/4 and was laid to the tune of €3000 - €2000 quickly followed by €5500 - €500 each-way and €2000 - €200 each-way Backtonormal. During betting an old face from the UK Simon Banks came over to speak to AK, he said he hadn’t read yesterday’s blog, evidently! Only joking Simon, it’s always good to see you. Over on the rails it was heaving with punters piling in from both sides, as opposed to yesterday where the team had been quiet. At the off the combined books had fielded €12,300 and had Backtonormal losing €6090 and Blizzard Of Oz €1380. Over the last the book had little chance, the two bogies were locked together. The jolly made a rick which left Backtonormal to kick on and win by just over two lengths which resulted in the winnings from the first race snatched back with interest, it’s a tough old game.

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The third race on the card was the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel hurdle and boasted an even money favourite in Mistergif. It wasn’t the jolly that attracted the first decent bet in the race though, that was for No Flies On Him laid to the tune of €5000 - €700, that’s 7/1 with the fractions, come racing and always ask for the bits. The one that AK was trying to get in the book was Nicky Henderson’s East India Express which he thought was underpriced even at his ring topping 9/1 but there were few takers. At the off there were no horse standing heroics of the previous race, the worst in the book was No Flies On Him losing just shy of €3000 with the favourite red for around half that with East India Express bad for €900. Now anyone that knows AK will be aware that the words lacking confidence, understated, timid and modest aren’t words that roll off the tongue in association with him. That a given, the declaration ‘Guys the word genius is banded about all too often these days but look at this’ was pretty good even for him, mind you, he’d gone all out for the well-backed 4/1 winner Gorgeous Tom in the book and had just copped €6326 so who can blame him. The steaks are back on boys!

The Channor Real Estate Group Novice Hurdle started lively. There were decent bets for most of the field €2700 - €150 each-way Backmersackme, €1750 - €500 Better Days Ahead, €3500 - €2000 and €875 -€500 Dancing City, €2000 - €260 Lecky Watson, €2000 - €500 all in fairly quick succession. Betting therein was steady but not lumpy until right in the hole AK laid €8000 - €500 Backmersakme making that the bogie for €5739 with Dancing City a loser for €421. The feature of the race was the drift for well touted Better Days Ahead which went off at 6/1. I wouldn’t say the drift was prophetic because Better Days Ahead ran well enough but without winning while the money for Dancing City, some of it trade was spot on and landed. Yes, the book lost but it wasn’t catastrophic.

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Next on the card the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion INH Flat saw Jasmin De Vaux open the 7/4 favourite the shortest of seven Willies but nobody was knocked over in the stampede to get in. Over at the sharp end on the rails, Des, by far the oldest member of the team but with the best lines was sweating over a bet on Romeo Coolio, ‘shitting himself’ as he eloquently put it. No, it wasn’t a bet he’d laid for the firm but one staked himself, adding ‘If this gets beaten I won’t be having a bet for a long long time’. While he was telling me this a punter bet €5000 - €500 each-way Harbour Highway, then Des went on, he’d backed Romeo Coolio at Cheltenham and hit the cross bar, he was hoping for the full whack today. Meanwhile over at the main ring pitch they’d laid €6000 - €1000 William Munny the biggest among plenty of smaller wagers for the same. At the off Harbour Highway was losing €6885 and William Munny over €13,000. Willie’s 9/2 shot Redemption Day won the race easily putting it to bed from a long way out ensuring AK didn’t have to sweat despite the bogie finishing third. Poor old Desmond’s cobblers were done, I felt it respectful to give the man some space. If his bookmaker is reading this, condolences. Meanwhile, the AK book copped, €7000, cheer yourself up with a pudding tonight Desmond.

Next up, the race before the penultimate the Punchestown Gold Cup. Galopin Des Champs opened bottle-on to land the day’s top prize but once again there was no pile on by punters keen to get involved so I had a wander. As I was passing the Ray Mulvaney pitch I was handed a free cake and very nice it was too, they are all gentleman on that firm, free cakes or not.

Over on the AK pitches, they might have been bereft of tasty cakes but not bets. They’d seen some opposition to the favourite, they laid €8000 - €500 and €2800 - €200 both each-way Corach Rambler, plenty of monkeys and bottles Fastorslow and decent money including a bottle each-way at 14/1 Hewick. At the off all those aforementioned were bad losers. Fastorslow was fast, but this is not the time or place for flippant plays on words. The worst in the book won and the firm lost €14,000 just on the win side, a very nasty reversal of a result indeed. Give AK his due though, he shouted for me, I ran across expecting him to get me to ask for friendly bookies to sub him some cash, instead he laughed and said, ‘Genuis is an often used word, I’m not one!’ That’s the spirit AK, despite with the places being taken into account the loss in the race was nudged up to €15,500. Hold that thought of a sticky toffee pudding with double cream Desmond.

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The penultimate HSS Hire Handicap Steeplechase saw James Du Berlais and Let’s Go Champ open joint 7/2 favourites for this 17 runner heat. The last couple of races yesterday were pretty slow and history repeated itself here. The punters displayed very little of interest with no bets of note and just €3500 fielded over the two pitches. Let’s Go Champ won the race, the book won a grand. To be honest AK was more concerned about the previous race, he was trying to guess if the payout list was longer than Dave O’Reilly. As you can see, Dave just shaded it but it was a close run thing. Meanwhile, Tidler came over from the rails asking for a grand to pay out, in one hand out the other.

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Next and last up was the concluding Weatherby’s General Stud Book Irish Flat Race where Aurora Vega was opened 7/4 favourite the shortest of five of, yes you guessed it, Willie’s. While I was watching the market I met James and Seamus of Flutter, Seamus was pleased to tell me that he was the guy who originally interviewed AK for the job at Paddy Power, saying he saw the talent and potential after the thesis he’d written on bad each-way markets. The rest as they say is history, as the lucky last was shortly to be. AK was also glowing with his praise of Seamus, who is apparently a wizard of Excel who understands punters and was a good man to learn from. Meanwhile, as the mutual backslapping was going on there were bets being taken. Not lumps but weight of money making Air Of Entitlement,  Familiar Dream and  Mozzies Sister all hefty losers at big prices. Well, it could have been worse and also a lot better. The best of the losers Familiar Dream won the race costing AK another €4000, which sort of summed the day up, another losing one. Oh well, there’s still three days to go and a meal to look forward to tonight. Not for me though, I’ve got a plane to catch, Lofty is taking what would have been my place. Have fun guys, the money’s only lent. I’m back in Ireland with AK for some summer festivals, thanks for reading.

Simon Nott

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