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Leading course bookmaker warns of calamity for layers in Ireland due to virus

Closed for business: an empty betting ring at Limerick on Sunday
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The bookmaking industry in Ireland is facing a precarious situation according to leading course layer Darragh Fitzpatrick, who will not be able to stand any of his pitches until March 29 at the earliest due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Horse Racing Ireland announced last week racing would take place behind closed doors until the end of the month and Fitzpatrick fears the major spring festivals at Fairyhouse and Punchestown, two key earners for the layers, will also be in doubt.

Fitzpatrick is expecting a lot of bookmaking clerks to be without work for the next month. He said: “We're facing a precarious situation. We don't know when it's going to come back and it's out of our control.

"I have two full-time people I employ on the racecourse and I employ numerous part-timers throughout the year and this is going to affect them as well.”

He added: “We just don't know when the show is going to be back on the road. It's very hard to see when it's going to come back to normal and, when people get used to not going racing, it’s going to be hard to get them into the habit of going again.

“Midweek is bad enough and, bar the bigger meetings, it's tough going. To take this hit as well, it's not easy, and I'm very worried.”

Fitzpatrick has earned himself a reputation as one of the biggest layers in the ring and in recent times he has invested heavily in seniority pitches. The Punchestown festival is a vital meeting for the bookmaker, who averages over €500,000 in turnover throughout the five days.

He added: “I can't see Fairyhouse going ahead this year, not a chance. Punchestown is six weeks away and that has to be in doubt as well. 

“We turn over in excess of €500,000 at Punchestown. I need a lot of turnover in order to make money and when there's no racing I don't make money.”

Limerick: raced behind closed doors last week

Fitzpatrick added: “I've put in a lot of money buying seniority pitches down through the years and probably paid more than they're worth in some instances.

"If I were to sell those pitches, I wouldn't get what I paid for them, so the only way to make money off them is to work them, which I'm prepared to do. But if those big meetings don’t go ahead it will be very hard.

“Having said all of that, your health is your wealth and in circumstances like that, you have to think of the health of the nation. I think that’s the only thing we should be thinking about just for the next couple of weeks until we see how things are.”

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We're facing a precarious situation. We don't know when it is going to come back and it's out of our control
E.W. Terms