Growth across racing as HRI chief hails a positive 2016
For the first time in nearly ten years, more horses are in training, with Horse Racing Ireland revealing 2016 figures for the sport yesterday.
It seems to show a belated end of the recession's influence, with stats from last year broadly positive. While bookmaker data reflected a continuing decline, the drop in revenue was not substantial. Attempts are being made to arrest this slide, which seems inevitable given the proliferation of online wagering.
Irish bloodstock sales and exports increased. Commercial sponsorship grew by 12pc. Crowds were up by 3.3pc, but these figures need context, considering jockeys are counted as part of the attendance, a huge number of the crowd gaining free admittance.
The year represented a seventh consecutive year of growth in sales, with the value of Irish bloodstock sold at public auction being €164.2m, up 7.7pc.
"Irish-bred horses continue to dominate at the highest levels internationally," said HRI CEO Brian Kavanagh. "Irish horses were exported to 36 different countries."
Flat runners rose 10.7pc to 12,801, jumps up from 15,488 to 16,130. The average field size grew from 10.7 to 11.2.
Prize-money grew by 6.3pc to €56.8m. There was staggering improvement in prize-money won abroad by Irish-trained steeds, up to £15.3m from £10.9m in Britain and from €5.3m to €10.7m in the rest of the world.
On-course betting saw falls in all sectors: bookmaker, SP shops and Tote. The ring saw a drop from €69.3m to €65.5m.
"The figures towards the end of the year improved," Kavanagh said.
"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. HRI will continue to assist in any way it can and recently announced a reduction in the on-course bookmakers levy."
It is understood a handful of pitches will shortly be put in place beside the parade ring at Leopardstown, as the beleaguered layers seek reinvention.
One, Ray Mulvaney, said: "We are down from turning over €197m in 2006. We need a reduction in the levy."
Reflecting on the year, Kavanagh admitted: "This couldn't be achieved without the support of Government. HRI believes that this (money) can be fully funded through betting duty, which increased by 63pc this year, following the introduction of off-shore betting tax legislation in 2015."
Nominations are open for the 2017 Irish Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, which encompass 10 categories, total prize-money of €80,000. The awards take place on May 9.
Meanwhile, Thistlecrack's rider Tom Scudamore has aimed a dig at Sandown, reacting to the news that the King George VI Chase will likely be moved there, with Kempton set to close.
"First I was shocked; now I just feel angry. If a track needs to close surely it doesn't make sense to close one of the biggest and most historic racecourses? And you move the King George to a place (Sandown) that holds a Grade One for 20 grand?"
That was in reference to Saturday's Tolworth Hurdle, which had a purse of less than £26,000.