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Racing returns to growth but on-course bets slump


IRISH racing returned to growth last year, but a recovery in Tote betting and attendance was offset by continuing falls in on-course betting and prize money, new figures show.

According to the sport's administrator, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), some measures of the health of the industry grew after "severe contraction" over the past four years.

Tote betting surged 11.3pc to €51.1m, while attendance climbed 40,000 to 1.24 million. Bloodstock sales at public auction jumped by nearly a fifth to €81m.

Those figures, while encouraging, are still way off from the peak of the boom, however, and several metrics used to measure the health of the industry continued to slump in 2011.

The number of new owners entering the market was flat on 2010, but total active ownership declined by 8pc from 4,667 to 4,278.

The average number of horses in training fell more than 12pc to 5,030, the lowest number in 10 years.

Bookmakers' betting on-course slumped more than 9pc to €97.5m, reflecting what HRI called the "twin challenges" of the recession and online wagering, while prize money fell from €1.6m to €44.4m -- its lowest level since back in 2002.

The figures are a far cry from the boom years. Even in 2008, prize money stood at more than €60m, while there were more than 12,000 horses in training at the time. In 2007, more than €61.3m was gambled on the Tote, while on-course bookmakers had revenue of more than €205m.

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh described the 2011 stats as "welcome news" for the industry.

"The growth in racecourse attendance is particularly welcome given the pressure that leisure and retail markets generally have been under," he said.

"The weakness of the horses in training figure, however, is a cause for real concern as this is the area where rural employment is most affected. This is one of the many challenges which must be addressed in the coming year," he added.

Irish Independent