Horse racing galloping ahead is a sign that punters feel optimistic
The scale of the economic recovery across Ireland has been a contentious topic in recent times, not least in last year's general election.
A good gauge of the national economic mood has traditionally been horse racing.
It's not called the sports of kings for nothing. The number of people owning, racing and backing horses all go up when punters feel flush.
Figures released this week by Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) show that the Irish bloodstock industry is going from strength-to-strength in line with increasing wealth.
Last year was the seventh successive year of growth for the industry.
Tote betting - which pools all bets of a particular type together - increased by 22pc last year, from €79.3m to €96.8m. That was despite a fall of 4.9pc in on-course betting.
"On-course bookmaker betting unfortunately continued to decline, although the figures towards the end of the year improved.
"Racecourses and bookmakers are working closer together to improve the way that this betting service is delivered, including for example, the positioning of bookmakers in corporate facilities and other areas away from the traditional betting ring," said Brian Kavanagh, ceo of Horse Racing Ireland.
The number of horses racing is up across the board. The number of flat race entries rose by 7.3pc, national hunt entries were up 5.4pc while there was a 10.7pc spike in runners. The number of horses sold at public auction climbed by 7.7pc to an overall €164m, while the value of exported foals rose to €272m.
There was also a rise of 1.5pc in the amount of active owners in the industry. An active owner is one who has entered at least one horse into a race over the course of the year.
The number of horses in training rose by 4.2pc to 8,561.
The most popular forms of ownership in Ireland are sole ownerships and partnerships, with 83pc of all registered horses falling into these categories.
The total figure for new owners rose by 9.5pc to 705.
Race meetings over the course of the year grew by 1.1pc, while there was an increase of 3.3pc in the number of people heading out for a day at the races.
"A strong Christmas with increased crowds at Leopardstown and Limerick, saw total attendances for the year increase by 3.3pc which reflects well on the work being done by racecourses to attract customers to their meetings. Highlights of the year were the festivals at Punchestown, Galway and Listowel, along with Longines Irish Champions Weekend.
"The smaller summer festivals and race meetings continue to perform strongly," Brian Kavanagh stated.
In a tell-tale sign of the increased interest in the horse racing sector, commercial sponsorships grew by 12pc to €4.8m.
Prize money for winning trainers was also up, with the amount awarded increasing to €56.8m, a rise of 6.3pc.
Irish horses won a total of £15.3m(€17.6m) in the UK, while the prize money for winning Irish horses in the rest of the world came in at €10.7m.
"Horse racing generates a very significant return to the rural economy in Ireland and positive international profile for our country.
"In 2017, HRI will continue to build on the growth achieved in 2016 and to tackle the challenges, particularly in relation to funding, employment levels, ownership and integrity." Mr Kavanagh added.