Racing industry counts cost of white Christmas
Christmas cheer is in short supply in Irish racing this weekend as the sport counts the cost of a catastrophic winter season.
Since the end of November, only five race meetings out of a scheduled 19 have gone ahead in Ireland because of the big freeze and the bumper Christmas programme -- including all three scheduled meetings today in Leopardstown, Limerick and Down Royal, as well as tomorrow's big meeting at Leopardstown -- has been decimated and is costing the industry tens of millions.
Horse racing had already been severely hit by the recession and cutbacks in its funding and the last four weeks has made matters worse.
"Jockeys, trainers, betting turnover, caterers and all the casual staff associated with a race day are all feeling the effect," said Barbara White, marketing services manager at Horse Racing Ireland.
"Added together the losses would certainly run into millions. Typically in the month of December, racing attracts over 100,000 racegoers across 25 fixtures. This includes the Leopardstown and Limerick Christmas Festivals."
As things stand, Leopardstown remain hopeful that they will race on three days this week and will inspect again tomorrow morning to see if Tuesday's meeting can go ahead. If that proves an impossible target, contingency plans are in place to increase the number of races on Wednesday and Thursday, with the possibility that a new record of six Grade 1 races on the same card will be set.
While snow is the problem at Leopardstown, frost is the villain of the piece in Limerick where an inspection was planned this morning for tomorrow's re-arranged fixture.
And the festive programme in Britain has been wiped out also. Only Wolverhampton and Fontwell survived of today's scheduled eight meetings, although Fontwell inspected yesterday morning and will inspect again at 8am this morning.
Meanwhile, Kempton clerk of the course Brian Clifford remains "optimistic" that tomorrow's top-class fixture will go ahead as scheduled. The card took on even greater significance after the King George VI Chase and the Christmas Hurdle were added having been lost to frost today.
Temperatures at the Sunbury venue remained below freezing yesterday but Clifford is keeping his fingers crossed temperatures rise as predicted.
"It's minus 2 Celsius this morning and the wind chill last night wasn't too bad - it was only minus 2.8C," said Clifford yesterday. "The forecasts say it will get up to plus 1C later today and then we'll have another very cold night tonight. The indication then is for temperatures to rise and even if it gets up to just above zero, I'll be happy."
The lack of racing means that jockeys have been hit hard. "The last time they earned money was the last time they rode," said Andrew Coonan, spokesperson for the Jockeys Association of Ireland.
"The loss of any portion of the the Christmas festival is huge to the jockeys. From a financial point of view it's the equivalent of losing the week of Punchestown. It's the pinnacle of the year in terms of jump racing.
"We can't plan for this adverse weather, if a jockey is injured and can't ride we have different schemes in place to try and supplement that. But now they have no income because of the weather and there isn't an insurance scheme to cover that."
It's estimated that the average jockey losing approximately €600 for every meeting that's cancelled. It's been over a month since many of them earned money and for those worst affected that means their earnings have already dried up.
"A lot of these jockeys are young married guys with mortgages and families and all the same expenses and costs that everyone else has. It's very tough for them when it should be the highlight of the year in terms of revenue." added Coonan
Jim Kavanagh of the Trainers Association said that the national hunt programme is set out in a way that leads horses from one festival or big meeting to another with the ultimate objective being Punchestown or Cheltenham. The races are spaced out to attract the best horses and as a result of the cancellations the trainers have been severely affected.
"We look forward to Leopardstown, Limerick and Down Royal as some of the most important events in the national hunt calendar," said Kavanagh.
"The trainers are suffering across the board, because of the big decrease in prize money there has been a shedding of jobs in the industry. On top of this they are having difficulty getting paid, a lot of people who were involved in racing recently have gone bust. All trainers are being hit, small, medium and large."
Bookmaker Paddy Power believes that between today and New Years day an estimated €50 million would be have been spent on Irish horse racing bets alone.
Since the cold snap hit over a month ago the Irish company are down €30 million in turnover in betting across the board.
"Every year we lose racing to the weather and we try to forecast for it. From a betting perspective, we expected one cold snap this year but we got three and there is nothing we can do about it." said Paddy Power
Sharon Byrne of the Irish Bookmakers Association believes that because of the cold snap turnover in betting shops is down in the region of 50 to 60 per cent.
"It's very difficult even for people to get to the shops, paths are treacherous, those who don't have a local shop don't bother. Phone betting is busier as people are ringing in their bets over the phone," she said.
Sunday Indo Sport