Punchestown feature: Colm White recalls a lifetime in the racing game

Newbridge layer, a familiar face at races throughout the country, talks all things racing

Tommy Callaghan

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Tommy Callaghan

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tommy.callaghan@leinsterleader.ie

Punchestown feature: Colm White recalls a lifetime in the racing game

Colm White

A familiar face at race meetings throughout the length and breadth of the country is Newbridge native Colm White.
Colm's involvement in racing and the betting business goes back a long way, in fact back when he began 'clerking' at Newbridge Dog Track for his older brother Des, in 1980.

From a well-known Newbridge family, Colm was reared on the Naas Road in a family steeped in racing. His late dad, Dickie, a member of the successful Sarsfields team of 1945, had a bookie office on the Main Street, and another in George's Street; he died in 1977 when Colm was just 13, the office was bought by Dickie's brother, the late Paddy 'Boiler' White, well know character in the GAA (Sarsfields and Kildare) and the bookmaking game.
Colm's mam, Bridget (Fitzgerald) who died in 1994, was born and raised in Ballymany Stud where HRI Headquarters is now situated; Colm has two sisters, Catherine and Maureen. while his uncle, James was stud groom taken in the Shergar kidnapping; another uncle, Tom, was headman with Paddy 'Darkie' Prendergast and later with his brother Kevin.
Colm is a one man band, with no connection to any of the multiples; he, along with another well-known local layer, Darragh Fitzpatrick, sponsored the €100,000 Naas November Handicap last year, something that Colin says “we got a lot of gravitas out of; something different but we were very happy with that venture I have to say.”
Colm has seen many, many changes down the years; and in recent times, the fall off in attendances is something that he feels there maybe no quick fix for.
“These days you have the various festivals, along with the seven or eight big days but Irish people have become very pickie as to what we like to do, regardless of what the sport is, but I feel those in authority need to create an image that makes racing the place to be on any given day such as the Friday or Saturday at Punchestown.
“You go to Punchestown earlier in the week of the Festival and there will be good crowds, no doubt, but a lot of them are invited guests.”
Colm's love of meetings such as the Thyests Day at Gowran Park, is a throw-back to what racing used to be but one that still attracts huge crowds.
“People look forward to that meeting a couple of months before it. Part of the old tradition when I was growing up, racing on a Thursday, I used to mitch off school and head to Clonmel or to Thurles or where ever; but those days are gone.
“Remember back then drapery shops and publicans had a half day on a Wednesday or a Thursday; racing was very much publican and farmer orientated, but racing would be black with people; mid-week racing has really suffered and the turnover has gone very much Internet based, not even betting shop based but sure these days every young one and young lad has a Paddy Power app.”
In one respect Paddy Power has taken the stigma away from gambling, they have created what I call 'social' gambling; sitting at home at night, maybe looking at a game between United and City and one asks who do you think will score first?
I think so-and-so, comes the reply. Sure we'll have a tenner on that says his pal. It's not seen as gambling, just a bit of fun, and it's great if it stays at that but, adds Colm I have seen some absolute horror stories through gambling.
“No matter what a fella has, say €50 or €100 in his pocket heading off to a meeting and if he brings home half of that, less or more, it matters not, that is what he had to spend on the day; he enjoyed his day's racing; no harm done and that in my opinion is the only way to go racing.”
Interesting Colm says there are now as few as 26 or 27 bookies working at meetings on a regular basis, but we feel we offer a very viable and competitive product; if you are at the races you will most often get better value from a strong, reputable bookmaker than you will in the offices; 3/1 in the offices will always be 7/2 on the track and if you are betting with a guy regularly, he knows you, and you know him, you can always say, if for instance you are betting on a 6/4 fav, say “sure you'll give me 2s, I was only going to have a score on it, sure give me two score; on course bookmakers need to promote that side of things a lot better than they do at the minute” he adds.
Colm confirmed that the bookmaking association is working with HRI with new initiatives to help promote the game “but you know, with the population of Ireland, there is just too much racing in Ireland.”
And the Newbridge man has some very strong thoughts on how racing is being promoted, or, as he implies, not being promoted.
“The big thing that is underpinning racing these days is the Media Rights money and I don't think they are concentrating as strongly as they have in previous times in trying to attract more people to racing, due to the fact they have the guarantee of money for the Media Rights.
“The Irish Racing Calendar has changed, for example you had a Punchestown meeting on a Monday not too long ago and a Fairyhouse meeting on a Tuesday, they were traditionally Wednesday and Thursday meetings but co-incidentally Racing TV had no meeting to show those two days (Monday and Tuesday) and they filled it.
“The same happened at a recent Clonmel meeting on a Tuesday, again, normally a Thursday meeting but again there was no racing to show on the Tuesday so Clonmel filled in.”
In other words, added Colm, “ Irish meetings have been fitted in to suit the TV adding, the old saying springs to mind, he who pays the piper calls the tune.”
There is, however, more to Colm White that simply standing at race meetings as over the years he has been, and continues to be involved, in breeding and owning horses, both singularly and with friends.
“Like anyone involved in that end of the game, I have been lucky and unlucky, you have to take the ups with the downs but we have had our fair share of good fortune. I am also involved in pin-hooking (buying foals and selling as yearlings) and we have had some success there also.
Many winners?
“Yes, we have had a few such as Belle.Chose, Gandalf, Caribelle and Hello Man. Gandalf won in Kempton (got a bit of a touch on that one) Hayley Turner rode him; decent horse. Among the syndicate winners we had were Connacht Council and Lightening Thief.
“Connacht Council, trained by Willie McCreery, and we had a couple of football legends involved including Willie, along with Johnny Tobin of Galway; Dickie Dunne who played with Clane and a few others.”
Good days and bad days racing?
“As a bookmaker you have to take the long view; the good with the bad, you can't let it get in on you; I wouldn't be from the traditional school of bookmakers, I do a fair bit of home work; a fair bit of studying. I like to pick races that I thing we (layers) have a chance of outsiders winning and then other races I play it fairly close to my chest.
“I watch a lot of racing videos; for the likes of Punchestown I could spend four or five hours the night before, getting into my head how I think certain races might develop; certain types of races as a bookie you like to work on, you like to be busy; other types of races you just play it a little bit tighter.”
In ten or fifteen years where do you see racing and especially, bookmaking?
“Racing will always be there because it is driven by very, very wealthy entities; Michael O'Leary, Rich Richie and Andrew and Graham Wylie, and we all know the big names on the flat side of things.
“As regards to bookmakers I think we will be down to possibly 12 bookies standing regularly; even when the Curragh reopens in a few weeks, we will probably only have about 25 or 26 layers.”
But regardless of what happens, you can rest assured Colm White will
be one of them!