Prize money slashed as funding cuts bite
The first consequence of the €1.6m cut in Government funding to the horse racing industry is a five per cent reduction in prize money next year.
And direct support to racecourses will be slashed by €600,000, with no new development projects planned in the short term.
The decision to cut prize money next year was one of a number of cost-cutting initiatives approved at a Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) board meeting on Friday.
There will also be reductions across the board of between six and eight per cent in HRI administration costs, the Racing Academy, Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association and the Irish Equine Centre.
There will be no further reduction in fixtures for 2011 beyond the 10 meetings already lost and the autumn point-to-point season will be retained.
HRI also found itself in controversy last week when it was revealed in replies to Dáil questions posed by Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd that HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh received a bonus of €40,539 in 2009.
The reduction in funding announced by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in the Budget was the fourth cut in two years and represents an overall drop of €15m since 2008. It means prize money for next year will total €44.1m across the board, although the lowest Grade races will remain at a guaranteed €7,000.
The cuts come at what has already been a difficult four-week period for racing here with the the extreme weather conditions -- although both Navan and Thurles hope to go ahead this afternoon, after inspections this morning.
Just 3,126 punters attended last week's refixed card at Fairyhouse, which boasted four Grade One races including the John Durkan taken from Punchestown as well as a highly competitive Grade Two Hilly Way Chase.
In a further sign of the recession, the number of horses in training in the Republic continues to decline and is now down 15 per cent since 2009.
The Turf Club is independently targeting savings of seven per cent in relation to integrity costs, which are incorporated into the Budget.
An equivalent saving is being sought in relation to the integrity costs for point-to-point races.
The cost of racecourse services such as patrol camera, photo finish and starting stalls will also be reduced by eight per cent.
"While further cutbacks are extremely regrettable, they are unavoidable given the fourth cut in the space of two years to HRI's funding, which has now fallen by €15m, or 25 per cent, since 2008," said Kavanagh.
"A secure, long-term funding structure is central to a return to growth within our industry. The foal population has dropped by 40 per cent over the past two years and horses in training are currently down 15 per cent compared to last year. The HRI Board consequently felt that it was important to retain our minimum value for prize money at its current level of €7,000."
Meanwhile, the betting tax regime will almost certainly be changed by Fine Gael and Labour should they, as expected, form the next Government after a general election in spring.
Both parties have been scathing in their criticism of the €26.3m Exchequer subvention of the Horse and Greyhound Fund for 2011 agreed in the Dáil last week. The Government has indicated that it, too, will change the tax regime, extending it to cover bets made online and over the phone, but the two main opposition parties believe progress has been far too slow.
Labour Party spokeswoman on Sport, Mary Upton said subvention from the taxpayer would not be required if the Government had put the new system in place on time.
"Due to the constant delay and inaction by this Government, none of the proposals in the document were acted upon and this revenue stream remains untapped," she said.