If the weather forecasters were paid by their accuracy most would be pretty much broke as we awoke Sunday morning to sunny skies and a strong breeze when the forecast was for rain all day.
It was shaping up to be a picture perfect day for the big races at Portmarnock Trotting Track.
After a hearty Irish breakfast we all prepared for the big day of racing and piled into the shuttle for the track. Our gracious host, Derek Delaney and his family were dressed to impress for their special memorial day to their late brother Vincent.
Derek took head counts to make sure everyone was accounted for and off we went.
And everyone had to have a good look at my specially designed Ladbroke’s Vincent Delaney Memorial pith helmet hat that my wife Stephanie helped me make for the occasion. It was unique, the only one in the world, and it featured the flags of all the nations that were racing that day, the band around the brim was the logo for the race and atop the hat was a racehorse.
Throughout the day everyone had to comment and check out my special hat. I must have taken two dozen photos with people and the children all laughed and wanted to try it on. It was a big hit.
As we drove to the track we saw plenty of horse trailers of all shapes and sizes entering the grounds and everyone had great big smiles as it was a special racing day. The race paddock area was jammed with trailers and horsemen and women preparing for the races.
There are no “race paddock” like they have in North America for harness racing. Here at Portmarnock, just like most tracks in Ireland and the United Kingdom as many fairs do back home, your trailer is your paddock area. You tie your horse up on the side and harness them, bath them between warmups and throw a “rug” over them and walk them around to cool out.
Everyone is prepared and they bring coolers with sandwiches and drinks and make a day of it. After your horse races and is put away then you head over to the main track for the festivities.
The bounce house and tenting for the children’s area was already filled with tyke’s ripping off their shoes to have a go and allow their parents a little time to check out their race programs.
The bookies were setting up their stands, the bar was already open and I was offered my first Guinness of the day, which I had to refuse…too early and too long an afternoon with work to do for a late breakfast stout to start off the afternoon. But there was plenty of people already in the bar getting prepped for the day’s events.
As the crowds come in you get your racetrack fixtures of people just like every track around the world. You have your hard core punters, your average fans, your die hard regulars who immediately head to their favorite spot to lay claim for the day.
But today was extra special and with that came the ladies dressed for the Royal Ascot or perhaps the Kentucky Derby of harness racing in Ireland. There was a contest of the best dressed man and women at the races. And there were many women dressed up beautifully along with many of the younger daughters of the horsemen. There was also a special exhibition by world champion Irish Dancers and music throughout the afternoon between the race announcements.
The bookies had a field day at the track. Everyone wanted to get a bet in. Here at Portmarnock there is win wagering only, no exactas or trifectas or any gimmick bets, no place or show, just the win bets. But the action was feverish before the start of the first race.
It was amazing as the “punters” were known by every “bookie” by first name or a nickname. They would place their wager, the bookie would shout it out to his teller, who wrote it done and then the punter was given a special card with a number on to verify the wager.
I placed my bets with Dan Carlin of Belfast, Ireland. He was the main bookie who set the early wagering odds on the races last Monday once the fields were drawn. But what is so unique with bookie wagering at a track like this in Ireland and the UK is that as the wagers are made the odds can change. You can bet way ahead of time on fixed odds but as post time draws near and more wagers are made, the bookies change the odds to reflect the wagering.
Sometimes they will shave a fraction of a point just to draw more attention. On Saturday in the second elimination heat of the Delaney Memorial, Carmel Camden had received so many wagers that most of the bookies stopped taking bets on her with two minutes to post.
Dan Carlin called me out as “Steve the Yank” when I made my bets, never said how much someone wagered except after he counted the wagered cash and dropped into the cash holder he would say it in some sort of code to his teller to keep the record of it. The bookies would shout out new odds to encourage punters to wager a few more euros and it all added up to a lot of excitement.
I figured just from watching a few races that the average bookie at the track, with 1,000 people at Portmarnock this Sunday, handled at least 40 or more wagers per race x 7 bookies x 10 races would be near 200,000 euros ($267,000) in total wagering going back and forth between winners and losers for the day. Dan Carlin would not say how things were going except that everyone was having a good time.
Mother Nature cooperated as best it could and it seemed that when the rain clouds came over the skies would open up and it would pour for five minutes and then the sun would come back out and dry everything up. It was raining hard for a few minutes before the start of the feature race and then as if Vincent Delaney himself made it stop before the finish of his memorial race.
After the racing was over the track pub was filled to the brim with race fans, owners, trainers, drivers and everyone’s children, all have a grand time. And the Guinness stout and Irish whiskey, mainly Jamieson’s as both are produced right in Dublin, were enjoyed quite a lot, even by this reporter, for the two nights in a row.
Between the superb hospitality of everyone I met for my five day venture to Dublin and their deep rooted passion for the sport of harness racing, I can honestly encourage anyone and everyone to make their plans well in advance to come to Portmarnock Trotting Track next year for the Ladbroke’s Vincent Delaney Memorial Series.
The Delaney brothers, Derek and James, who were the best of hosts to the visiting guests, Roger Huston, Wally Hennessey, Anthony Butt, Heather Vitale, myself and my wife Stephanie, have already promised that the race weekend will be bigger and better with richer purses for next season and more special events.
It’s the Irish version of the Little Brown Jug and they have already gotten a commitment from Roger Huston who said he will be back to call the races once again. It’s a weekend of “grass roots” fair racing that will keep you smiling and having a great time in a country that thrives on friendliness and first-class hospitality from the minute you arrive.
Only there is no Little Brown Jug waiting at the finish line at Portmarnock, but there will be a glass of good strong Guinness stout!
By Steve Wolf, for Harnesslink.com