Thursday 14 December 2017

Richard Forristal: New thinking required in funding race

Trainer Jim Bolger and Jockey Kevin Manning after Trading Leather won The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby
Trainer Jim Bolger and Jockey Kevin Manning after Trading Leather won The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

The long-awaited Betting (Amendment) Bill is due to be presented by the Minister for Finance to the Cabinet in Dail Eireann tomorrow.

There is a chance that the legislation will be published before the Government rises for its summer break on July 18, though history tells us that might prove a tad ambitious.

Even if it is published, the various legislative hoops should ensure that the 1pc levy of online betting revenue – reckoned to be worth up to €12m – will continue to be some way off being raised.

Come Galway, a HRI Board meeting will consider the minutiae of an At The Races/Satellite Information Services media rights bid, which the governing body has identified as the preferred option of three suitors.

By forsaking the other two, HRI and the Association of Irish Racecourses effectively elected to subsidise ATR, as it wouldn't survive without Irish racing.

The ATR/SIS proposal will reportedly result in them ponying up around €5,000 extra per meeting, meaning that Irish tracks are likely to get in the region of €50,000 (hitherto €6,000 per race) just to host a fixture.

So ATR survives, AIR gratefully accepts a cumulative figure of around €1.5m on top of the €14m it is already paid, and everything carries on as normal. Such an agreement would effectively mean that race-day attendances and on-course betting turnover will continue to nosedive, as they have done since 2008.

Tracks will simply get paid more just to hold a meeting, so there is no incentive to attract people through the gates.

Both of the other bids involved a premium payment, which ATR doesn't, so long as you have a Sky subscription. That makes it easier for potential race-goers to stay at home.

Right now, neither the media rights money nor the government revenue generated from gambling is siphoned in the way of HRI's central fund, and you wonder if an opportunity hasn't been lost to initiate a root-and-branch reform of racing's failing funding mechanisms.

Since 2008, the exchequer handout to HRI has plummeted 28pc to €44m, with the National Recovery Plan's requisite €3.1bn correction this year meaning another cut is likely. In the short term, the media rights windfall means tracks can continue to function as businesses without any correlation between footfall and the bottom line.

If the media rights house of cards were ever to fall, though, most would struggle to survive, what with little to speak of in the way of customer loyalty or race sponsorship, which has also fallen off a cliff.

Leopardstown at Christmas, the Punchestown Festival, the Galway Races and the Irish Derby are honourable exceptions, as they are also stand-alone social events with great traditions.

OWNERSHIP

Although we may ultimately have to accept that Irish racing's future is one of remote access, you wonder if HRI shouldn't flex its muscle and take ownership of the media rights cash.

AIR would be reluctant to agree to a centralisation of the fund, but Irish tracks should surely be incentivised to provide better services to racegoers than they currently do, and to attract more custom. Handing out €50,000 per meeting to a track constitutes a race to the bottom.

As such, a slashing of a fixture list that currently stands at 350 – unjustifiably long given that the number of horses in training continues to fall – might also be advisable, as it would also lead to an inevitable increase in competitiveness, and therefore make Irish racing a more attractive betting medium on a global scale.

Cutting fixtures wouldn't please already struggling trainers, but, if HRI funding were to one day be tied to the betting revenue that Irish racing generates, then improving competition levels would be of critical importance.

While fixtures could be increased in line with demand thereafter, right now there are too many one-sided, small-field races. If the day-to-day product were to be upgraded, the television rights could then attract a higher premium.

The net result would be more competitive racing, and an ongoing motivation to ensure as much. On the assumption that HRI somehow convinces the government that current and sought-after (online) betting revenue should be committed to racing, it would have a foundation from which to plan long-term, with an estimated yield in the region of €32m.

Add in the (increasingly valuable) television rights money and you would soon be heading towards the €50m mark. That would still be a far cry from the €61m that racing was gifted back 2008, but at least it would be a sustainable, self-sufficient step in the right direction.

AL KAZEEM ECLIPSES WAR EN ROUTE TO ARC

The James Doyle-ridden Al Kazeem won a third Group One in six weeks when striding clear of Declaration Of War in Saturday's Coral Eclipse Stakes.

Roger Charlton's hugely progressive five-year-old will now be given a break before targeting Leopardstown's Irish Champion Stakes in September, en route to a tilt at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Doyle received a five-day ban for allowing his mount to impede the eventual third Muhkadram, an incident that helped Declaration Of War to take the runner-up spot.

It was a commendable effort from the Queen Anne hero in defeat under Joseph O'Brien, although the jockey's father Aidan suggested that he would now revert to a mile for the Sussex Stakes.

KNOCKCROGHERY LOOKS BOUND FOR BALLYBRIT

Thurles handler John Nicholson could bid for an ambitious double with his in-foal, in-form mare Knockcroghery after Mark Enright's game mount held on narrowly to deny Pires at odds of 5/2 in the At The Races Hurdle at Limerick.

Following the six-year-old's second successive win on the Flat at Bellewstown on Friday night, yesterday's victory was her third on the spin, and she could now be aimed at the Galway Hurdle, with a tilt at the amateur riders' handicap at Ballybrit also a possibility.

In a drama-filled edition of the thetote.com Galway Plate Trial, Noel Meade's 20/1 shot Another Palm just got up to foil Our Girl Lucy by a nose under Robbie Power, while at Bellewstown Oliver Brady's redoubtable Imperial Shabra (6/1) took the featured Seamus Mulvaney Crockafotha Hurdle in style.

On his 88th start, the nine-year-old made virtually every step under Ryan Treacy. Conor Maxwell rode a 220/1 double on the card, on Sean Doyle's Definite Knockoff (11/2) and Dermot McLaughlin's Ocean Bright (33/1).

TWEET OF THE WEEK

@TJm555

Today I've lost one of the most important people in my life, my friend, my boss, David Johnson Rest In Peace x

– Timmy Murphy pays tribute to owner David Johnson, who lost his battle with cancer on Saturday aged 67. The duo enjoyed Aintree National glory with Comply Or Die in 2008.

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