Bookies' fury as racing body axes 'essential' meets
Bookmakers Association labels decision to cancel winter fixtures 'stupid and rubbish'
A major row has erupted between Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) and Irish bookmakers over the axing of race meetings and the "decline of the industry", the Sunday Independent has learned.
The bookies are furious at what they have called a "stupid" decision by the HRI not to allow winter racing at Dundalk, despite there being adequate prize money and demand, and have accused the horse-racing authority of neglecting smaller trainers and meetings.
Proposals had been sent to HRI about the running of a series of night meetings on the all-weather track during the winter, which they said would generate €2.5m, but they were rejected by HRI bosses.
The Irish Bookmakers Association boss Sharon Byrne said the industry was being closed off to many smaller trainers and rejecting events like Dundalk was having a detrimental impact on racing in Ireland.
The row over Dundalk racing has been brewing for several months, but exploded over the weekend.
In one letter from the bookies' chief to Jason Morris, director of racing at HRI, Ms Byrne said that they had secured enough prize money to justify running the event.
"It is essential that each of us maximise the potential in every area of our respective businesses, to allow the sector to continue to provide thousands of jobs and revenue for local economies across the country.
"The Irish Bookmakers Association, supported by Paddy Power, have jointly proposed a number of practical and workable suggestions for the 2011 fixture list," she said.
Ms Byrne told the Sunday Independent that the response from racing bosses was: "Well, what's in it for us?"
A spokesman for HRI rejected this. He said: "Dundalk has the highest number of fixtures of Ireland's racecourses. Over the last two years, HRI's funding has been reduced by €13m and the number of horses in training has reduced by 14 per cent.
"Against that background, we have had to reduce fixtures by 10 next year and in the absence of a secure funding mechanism, it will not be possible to put on extra fixtures at any track," he said.
Yesterday, Ms Byrne described HRI's comments as "stupid and rubbish".
She also said that average attendance per meeting fell by 24.2 per cent between 2000 and 2008 despite IHA/HRI having spent €18.7m in the period on marketing and promotions.
In response, HRI said: "Attendances at Irish race meetings grew every year from 2001 to 2007. The downturn in 2008 affected attendance levels dramatically, particularly in the corporate sector. This year attendances have recovered to show modest growth on last year."
HRI also said the bookmakers' criticisms were "political posturing" ahead of the Budget, when it is expected that a betting tax will be introduced.
A spokesman told the Sunday Independent the charges labelled at HRI by the bookies were "a distraction from the real issue here which is the intention of the Government to introduce legislation to reform the betting industry".