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French pact ideal way to harness Irish talent

Aisling Crowe

Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30

Racing French-bred trotting horses here could pave the way for the future expansion of the sport in Ireland. Photo credit: Getty Images
Racing French-bred trotting horses here could pave the way for the future expansion of the sport in Ireland. Photo credit: Getty Images

An agreement to race French-bred trotting horses in Ireland could pave the way for the future expansion of the sport here. At least that is the hope of the Irish Harness Racing Club (IHRC), the sport's governing body.

The IHRC has signed a pact with Le Trot, the French trotting racing authority, to import horses of the French Trotter breed into this country to race in a new series exclusively for them. In return, the French governing body is providing financial support, training and other incentives for Irish racing, which are vital if trotting is to survive here.

“It either grows or dies, we can’t stay the way we are. The sport has been stagnant even though a number of things have been tried over the last 20 years. This has to be the most progressive initiative that has ever happened to the sport,” says James O’Sullivan, chairman of the IHRC.

The deal was signed at the Prix d’Amerique, the most prestigious trotting race in the world, at the behest of the French authorities. Held every January at the Hippodrome Paris-Vincennes, its €1m prize fund dwarfs the money on offer in Ireland and the funding available to the sport in this country.

More than 30 French horses were purchased by Irish owners in France at an agreed price of €2,500 per gelding and €2,500 per mare, with the mare owners receiving an additional €2,000 from Le Trot. The IHRC plans to buy more horses under this agreement later this year.

A separate racing series exclusively for French-bred trotters was established at the start of May and the top eight drivers from that competition will be invited to race against the best eight in France at a meeting in Normandy in November. According to O’Sullivan, the level of support that the Irish are receiving from Le Trot is unprecedented.

Now that the deal has been formalised, Irish-born trotters with French parents will have access to racing in France, which opens up an entire continent to Irish racing from which it had been cut off. In Europe, particularly France, trotting is on a par with thoroughbred racing and the long-term objective of this plan is to build up the French Trotter breed here and feed pictures of Irish racing to France. This would allow Irish trotting access to the world famous French betting pool, the PMU, and to new avenues of funding.

This deal comes on the back of the decision of the IHRC to become an affiliate of Horse Sport Ireland, the national governing body for every equestrian pursuit with the exception of horse racing.

“Horse Racing Ireland don’t want to know us and although we are not an exact fit with HSI, they have been very supportive of us. The affiliation is very beneficial as it gives us credibility and a little bit of muscle so we’re grateful,” O’Sullivan adds.

Sunday Indo Sport

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