It’s no surprise that Ireland indulges in what many consider ‘vice’ in the States. There are pubs on every corner, typically beside a bookies. Green and gold signs distinguish the popular bookie, Paddy Power. It’s home to several of the older men who like to wear tweed and drink stout, along with their sons and grandsons in training. It’s gambling…just like in Vegas, but instead of getting sunburnt in the hot Nevada sun, these guys get drenched in the rain along their walk to the bookies.
These bookies take bets on everything ranging from hurling and rugby to who will be voted out on the next “Big Brother” to the next Oscar nominees. Besides the general sporting and novelty bets, the horse and greyhound races are very popular in Ireland. Some bookies have a live broadcast of the races, so that those in the bookies can feel the rush of their horse or greyhound coming in first. I imagine it’s the same feeling as someone getting Blackjack at one of those flashy casinos.
Now, being at the races while having a bet on is even more intense. In the betting and horse racing world, the red carpet Irish event is the Galway Races. Well, maybe red carpet isn’t the correct term, since you must walk or park in a huge gravel lot upon arrival.
The proper attire for this event includes a suit and tie for guys and very elegant dress, perhaps gowns even, complete with a matching hat or feather decoration. I saw everything from a peacock look-a-like to the real-live 3-D version of Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” cartoon. And, since we’re still in Ireland here, no one would be caught without an umbrella-or so you would think!
There are about seven or eight races a day, there is a lot of standing around or lining up to make a bet. Some races have up to 25 horses! The only time I was actually close enough to the racetrack, I still couldn’t see the horses over the crowd, but I was able hear the powerful galloping a full five seconds before they passed me. The ground reminded me a little of those tiny aftershocks from my home in Los Angeles, but instead of everyone rushing to hide in a doorway, people were roaring and cheering on the horses as if they could somehow change the outcome of the race.
After the last horse race of the day there is a mad rush to the buses and taxis and a huge line of cars waiting to exit. But, just a couple hours later, dinner was just getting started at the Greyhound races. I was fortunate enough to get tickets to this four-course meal, complete with the entertainment.
Just as the waiter took all the drink orders at the start of the night, a bookie walked from table to table taking bets. Just before the little bunny shot around the race track the lights dimmed so that everyone’s focus was directed out the glass wall onto the greyhounds. Although there seemed to be tons of excitement, the energy was subtle compared to the horse races.
In the end, the day was full of ‘craic’ (Irish term for fun). Now, I can somewhat understand why the older men run into the bookies, there is more to it than just escaping the rain for a moment. Still, I think watching the race on a small television set would not compare to the excitment of watching the race live among all the other hundreds of people who took their chances on a horse.
I ended up just about even at the end of the day. One of my friends, who simply chose the number 8 horse, ended up with winnings of €150, from two €2 bets. For my other friends, the unlucky ones, they stuck to the different system. I believe the motto was ‘Your best bet is at the bar…You always win there.’
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