Racehorse owners failing to last the course in recession
The sport of kings is increasingly becoming one for royalty as the chill wind of recession thins out the number of racehorse owners in Ireland.
A favourite pastime of the nouveau riche during the boom years, the expense associated with owning bloodstock has seen paupers fall off the saddle.
New figures from Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) show that the number of bloodstock owners in the country tumbled 11.7pc last year to 3,779 compared to 2011. The number of horses in training also fell, by 6pc to 9,238.
"The fall in ownership and horses in training remains a cause for concern," said HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh.
He insisted that Irish horses and racing professionals continue to dominate the world stage however, driving international demand for Irish bloodstock. Sales of Irish race horses grew for the second year in a row during 2012, with turnover up 15.4pc to €93.5m.
But whatever about global demand, the industry in Ireland is suffering.
The figures reveal that total attendances at fixtures last year in Ireland fell 3.4pc to 1.2 million. Average attendances slumped 7.2pc to 3,416.
And all that was despite the number of fixtures actually rising in 2012, by 4.2pc to 350. Mr Kavanagh said the fall in attendance had been hit by the cancellation of 20 fixtures last year.
On-course betting has also plummeted since the end of the boom.
Last year it plunged 20.8pc to €98.4m and the figure is down nearly €130m since a peak that was recorded in 2007.
The betting hasn't necessarily migrated either, with the amount of wagers placed on horse racing at betting shops in Ireland last year having remained stable at €2.8bn.
Total prize money in Ireland edged 1.1pc higher last year to €44.9m.
Mr Kavanagh claimed the future of on-course betting "is doubtful" without reform of betting taxation laws.
He maintained the horse racing sector contributes €1bn annually to the Irish economy and accounts for €174m in annual exports.
"To maintain and develop that status, the industry awaits the enactment of legislation to bring off-shore betting within the taxation net with an appropriate level of betting duty to ensure the industry is funded without exchequer subvention while maintaining a link between betting duty raised and industry funding," he said.