Jumping and betting figures remain on downward spiral
Horse Racing Ireland CEO Brian Kavanagh has welcomed a generally improved set of six-month industry statistics, but the jumps scene continues to struggle for any stability.
The number of owners and new owners has plummeted over most of the past decade, but the figures for January to June this year suggest that a plateau may have been reached, with the respective tallies rising most of 1pc to 2,892 and 11pc to 382.
While it may only be a snapshot of the industry at this point in time, the correspondent figure for total horses-in-training is also up 4.5pc to 7,024.
Increases in sponsorship (8pc to €3.27m) and prize money (6.5pc to €25.5m) have helped alleviate the slide in the number of runners (up 1.6pc to 12,645), and a change in distribution strategy means that prize money has reached the connections of 17pc (2,930) more runners.
However, in a reflection of how the Flat's more extensive programme, with a raft of entry level opportunities and an international market, offers a more attractive business model to the next generation of handlers, there is a stark variance in the breakdown.
While the number of Flat runners in the past six months has risen 12pc to 5,380 on the corresponding 2015 figure, the jumps total for the same period is down 5pc to 7,265.
The beleaguered state of the middle and lower tiers of the jumping game can been seen across the half-year tallies, with the number of National Hunt races, entries and average field sizes also all continuing to contract.
"Signs of progress were evident towards the end of 2015 and have continued in the first six months of 2016," Kavanagh (below) said of the returns.
"In particular, we have seen significant improvements in Flat racing across all measurements. The NH sector has yet to show the same scale of recovery, although, while the first quarter was disappointing, the last couple of months have shown more positive results."
The figures for attendance and average attendance remained largely stagnant, but the downward spiral of on-course betting continues. Bookmakers' turnover plummeted 10pc to €31.3m and Tote returns fell 6pc to €4.8m, taking the total on-course drop to 9.3pc (€36.1m). Despite that, the Tote's overall performance improved by 30pc to €44.2m thanks to the development of international markets.
"In the main, the declines in the Tote's on-course betting were attendance related," Kavanagh said. "However, regardless of attendances, on-course betting with both Tote and bookmakers remains in decline and continues to be under significant pressure. We are discussing with racecourses and bookmakers ways in which this trend can be reversed."
Elsewhere, the odds-on Even Song is one of four that Aidan O'Brien (below) has in tomorrow's Irish Oaks, with British raiders Architecture, We Are Ninety, Ajman Princess and Harlequeen among eight others in the Classic.
O'Brien's Breeders' Cup winner Hit It A Bomb will not make his return to action this weekend.
The lightly-raced three-year-old had been in line to have his first start since his win at Keeneland in October in the Friarstown Stud Minstrel Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday. But O'Brien said: "He's good. He's in on Sunday, but he won't run. He's done very well since his break, but he'll take a day away before he runs."
Paul Gilligan, meanwhile, is to have the case that originally saw him banned for six months by the British Horseracing Authority - for running a horse called Dubawi Phantom that was deemed to have previously run at unrecognised "flapping" - re-heard.
The Cheltenham-winning handler's case had been heard by a committee involving Matthew Lohn, whose presence on "independent" panels led to the possible appearance of bias, due to his having previously worked for the BHA.
Gilligan's appeal has been allowed and his costs reimbursed as part of an agreement that will see the case re-heard by a different panel.