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Wednesday 17 January 2018

Race is on to improve the lot of filly owners

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Thoroughbred breeders might have all their fingers and toes crossed for a colt foal this season, but nature dictates that roughly half of the foals hitting the ground this year will be fillies. While National Hunt breeders might be disappointed to see a filly arriving, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association (ITBA) is hoping to paint a more optimistic future for them.

A special session at this week's ITBA Expo in Leopardstown racecourse will be dedicated to examining how to improve the lot of filly owners.

The seminar, entitled 'What can the ITBA/National Hunt Committee do for Fillies?', is aimed at convincing trainers, breeders and buyers that fillies are a forgotten asset that can reap rewards.

As ITBA manager Shane O'Dwyer explains, fillies can and do win on the track.

"Last year, 1,627 fillies ran in 5,227 races and they won €4.165m in prize money," he says. "The statistics show that 36pc of mares raced collected prize money last year and 25 black-type races were won by fillies."

The successes of Unaccompanied, the Dermot Weld-trained four-year-old mare, in winning the Istabraq Festival Hurdle in December and the Willie Mullins-trained Quevega have flown the flag for the fairer sex in the past year, while the famous Dawn Run did more than her bit 26 years ago with her memorable Cheltenham Gold Cup victory. With some initiatives to promote fillies already in place, the ITBA manager hopes to use the discussion forum as a way of getting ideas from breeders, owners and trainers about how to promote more fillies in the industry.

"There are some initiatives already in place, such as the increase in weight allowance from 5lb to 7lb, and the fillies' leasing scheme and fillies' racing scheme," he says.

"Now what we want is to find out what's working, what can be improved and how to improve it."

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Speakers for the session will include Leo Powell, Jim Mernagh, Noel Meade, Richard Pugh and Richard Hall.

The filly forum is just one of a huge list of seminars, forums and workshops scheduled for the Expo, which takes place this Friday and Saturday.

Among the highlights are the interactive web-based International Breeding and Racing Forum, which will be streamed live on the internet from 5.30-8pm on Friday evening.

The speaker line-up features an impressive list of global experts, including Carter Carnegie, senior vice president of sales and business development with the Breeders' Cup, and Paul Fisher, group managing director of the Jockey Club Racecourse, who manages 14 of the largest racecourses in Britain, including Aintree, Cheltenham, Epsom Downs and Newmarket.

Mark Johnston is one of Britain's leading trainers, having become the first Flat trainer to send out more than 200 winners in a season (2009) and then repeating the feat in 2010, while Melbourne-based bloodstock consultant Mark Player recruits horses to compete in top international races.

Horse Racing Ireland CEO Brian Kavanagh, Tote Ireland chairman Jim Nicholson and John O'Connor, president of the ITBA, lead the Irish contingent.

Anyone interested in participating in the interactive session, by posing questions or making comments to the panel, can register at www.itba.ie.

On Saturday, the 11am seminar titled 'Business Strategies for Survival and Success' is aimed at helping breeders and trainers to develop efficient business models to improve profitability and enhance their chances of success.

Among the speakers for this session will be Good Food Ireland's Margaret Jeffares and IFAC taxation expert Declan McEvoy.

"We are hoping for some good audience interaction in this session," says Mr O'Dwyer.

"The aim is to help breeders and trainers to survive in the recession and we will be touching on everything from breeding strategies to nutrition and management, as well as streamlining their businesses to cut unnecessary costs.

"For breeders, the experts will outline what to look for in mares to be bred and what type of stallion to choose. The bottom line is that breeders need to produce the correct product for the market."

According to the latest statistics from Horse Racing Ireland, the number of horses in training fell from 5,769 to 5,030 last year -- the lowest number in 10 years. The number of new owners entering the industry, an important indicator of the health of horse racing, emerged fractionally ahead at 777, just one up on 2010.

However, total active ownership declined by 8pc last year from 4,667 to 4,278.

Last year's statistics also showed that bloodstock sales, Tote betting and racecourse attendances grew significantly, marking a positive upturn for the industry which had contracted severely since 2007.

Growing success in overseas markets saw Irish-foaled horses exported to 35 countries compared to 34 in 2010.

Bloodstock sales at public auction in Ireland were €81m, up 19pc on 2010. It is estimated that a further €112m of bloodstock was sold by Irish consignors at auction in Britain and France, and the total value of Irish-foaled exported horses sold at public auction was €156.5m, up 6.5pc.

Racecourse attendance rose by 40,000 to 1.24m people and Tote betting reached €51.1m, up 11.3pc on 2010.

More than 100 businesses will be showcasing their wares at the Expo this week and the trade stands will feature studs, nutrition companies, industry bodies, artists and fashion.

The ITBA Expo takes place on Friday and Saturday at Leopardstown Racecourse. For more information, go to www.itba.info/expo

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