Saturday 24 February 2018

Grounds for concern as racing incomes fall

Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

HORSE Racing Ireland (HRI) said sponsorship levels rose sharply in the first six months of the year but most metrics on the health of the racing industry were down, and remain way behind the boom years.

In a statement to mark the end of the first six months of the year, HRI said the figures reflected the huge impact of the downturn over the past five years. In the six months to June 30, Bloodstock sales and sponsorships climbed 14.5pc and 36pc year on year, to €22.9m and €2.8m respectively.

That was largely offset, however, by declines elsewhere in the industry -- with a fall in the betting sector, in particular.

The value of turnover from on-course bookmakers plunged 19pc to €39.7m, while sales from the on-course Tote plunged 23pc to €4.8m. Turnover from on-course bookies has now fallen by more than half since 2007.

The drop came despite attendances being largely flat, falling by only 0.3pc to 496,000.

HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh described the figures as "disappointing" but added he expected bloodstock sales to continue to grow over the rest of the year.

Horses in training continued to slide, this time by 6.7pc to a little more than 7,500, while new owners declined 11pc to less than 400.

"The number of horses returned in training and the new-owners figures are an area of real concern for the health of the broader industry and the prospects for employment in the sector over the coming years," said Mr Kavanagh.

"The drop in average attendance at race meetings can be largely attributed to the increased number of fixtures in the period and the unprecedented weather conditions endured by the Punchestown festival and other fixtures in the second quarter," he said.

"This was also a major factor affecting the Tote's on-course performance. In the absence of betting tax reform, on-course bookmakers will continue to encounter difficulties."

The drop in betting has a knock-on effect by reducing the size of the State's horse and greyhound fund, which is used to maintain the industry. That is funded largely by a 1pc tax on bookmakers' turnover.

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