Sunday 17 December 2017

Turf Club optimistic but figures still on the slide

Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan is hopeful about horse racing's future: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan is hopeful about horse racing's future: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

The Turf Club's Denis Egan has expressed a cautious hope that the decline in racing's participation levels - which set in since the recession - is bottoming out, although the regulator's 2015 integrity statistics reaffirm the plight of small-scale jumps trainers in particular.

Following the recent publication of last year's industry returns, Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh conceded that the shrinking National Hunt sector had got to the point that it required some "stimulation".

Yesterday's unveiling of HRI's regulatory arm's figures shows a tally between the two.

The number of licences held by trainers and jockeys fell again, a year-on-year drop of 1pc among fully licensed trainers to 373 bringing the collapse since 2007 to 18pc.

The rate at which restricted handlers - who can have no more than four horses in training - are abandoning the vocation has slowed, but a 6pc fall to 248 hardly refutes the sense that the chasm between the upper and lower echelons continues to widen.

That figure is down 29pc on a 2009 peak of 349, while the jumps sector accounts for 10.5pc of the overall year-on-year drop.

As the HRI document indicated, there are signs of stability on the Flat, which benefits from the consistent year-round outlet provided by Dundalk's all-weather facility and the global nature of the export market.

Fully-fledged Flat-only handlers grew in number from 16 to 18, and there was an increase of one to 13 in their restricted counterparts.

"The most significant statistic is that the decline in trainers' licenses seems to have bottomed out, which could indicate that the worst is over," Egan suggested.

He continued: "A further indication of this is that there were small increases in Flat licenses and in dual restricted licenses, though the number of National Hunt restricted licenses continues to fall.

"However, for the recovery in this area to take hold, the number of horses-in-training will have to start increasing, which did not occur in 2015."

HRI's figures highlighted a year-on-year drop of 4.6pc in the number of horses in training to 8,214, a collapse of 33pc on its 2007 peak.

Likewise, the Turf Club revealed that a rise in the number of Flat runners couldn't prevent an overall 1.5pc drop to 27,047, while the point-to-point sector suffered an even more worrying 16.5pc decline in runners from the same number of fixtures held.

Also recording negative yields were jockey numbers, with jump jockeys (down 6pc to 110), Flat jockeys (down 4pc to 48) and amateur riders (down 11pc to 346) all on the slide.

Illustrating the increasing polarisation of the jumps sector, the Turf Club document relayed: "There are now more horses with steeplechase handicap ratings of 140 or greater than at any time in the past, as evidenced by six chase winners at Cheltenham, including three Grade Ones."

A more positive negative was a 25pc drop in the number of careless riding inquiries, while 2014's notable increase in the percentage of successful appeals held firm at 61pc.

Irish Independent

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