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HRI call for betting tax hike as slump hits home

The grim reality of the extent to which the recession has impacted negatively on Irish racing is graphically illustrated in the sobering 2009 industry statistics released yesterday by Horse Racing Ireland.

The semi-state body termed the constant slippage on all fronts last year as "significant contraction across the key measures in the Irish horse racing industry" as they flagged up a series of disappointing results.

"There was a 12pc reduction in total prize money which remains the vital catalyst for economic activity in the industry by driving investment in bloodstock and providing the commercial incentive to put horses in training.

"A further major cut, down to €47.7m, has already been announced for 2010 meaning a return to 2002 prize money levels," read the HRI statement which also confirmed an 11pc dip in attendances at the 26 tracks.

Furthermore, on-course betting turnover slumped with a significant decline to the tune of 21pc, the bookmakers at 27pc, rather than the Tote (13pc), suffering most in this category.

Participation in the sport also dropped away for the first time in many years, with 4pc less runners; 6pc fewer individual horses competing; one in 10 owners exiting overall and a 28pc reduction in the number of new owners.

The most severe decline during 2009 was witnessed again in bloodstock sales at public auction, down by almost a third to €67.5m. This scenario represents a 62pc dip compared to the 2007 figure of €176.5m which "reflects an Irish breeding industry now under major threat".

HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh stressed: "It is essential for the racing industry to become self-financing, as it is in most other countries. This can be done with a meaningful levy on betting, including all off-shore internet and telephone betting which has wrongly escaped the taxation net up to this point."

He termed horse racing and breeding as "one of the few industries in which Ireland is rightly recognised as a world leader, due to its indigenous skills base and the tradition of enlightened Government policy".

"On the positive side, 2009 was another year of remarkable achievement for Irish horses, trainers, jockeys and breeders under both codes. For the second successive year, Ireland produced the Flat world champion racehorse in Sea The Stars.

"Three of the top four Flat horses in the world last year were trained here and the top three were all Irish bred. This level of consistent success showcases our racing and breeding industry at the highest international level -- in no other sport can Ireland claim such a level of elite achievement."

Irish Independent