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Horse Racing Ireland: industry statistics to July 2014

The Irish horseracing industry statistics for the first half of 2014 showed improvement across many important areas with year-on-year increases in bloodstock sales, racecourse attendances, new owners, Tote turnover and prize-money. However, the number of active owners remains a concern.

Bloodstock sales at public auction grew for the fifth consecutive year with turnover up by 41.9% from €25.8m to €36.6m year-on-year, which is the highest level it has reached since the first half of 2007.

There was a welcome rise in the number of new owners, which increased by 8.2% from 341 to 369. The total number of active owners, however, was down 5.8% from 3,223 to 3,035 and the number of horses in training declined by 5.5% to 7,209, compared to 7,626 in the first six months of 2013, which had an impact on entries and runners.

“It is good to see such strong bloodstock sales results from the first half of the year and it looks set to continue, which would bring the yearly level back up to pre-recession figures,” said HRI Chief Executive Brian Kavanagh. “The fact that Irish horses perform so well abroad drives the interest in Irish-bred horses.  Last year Irish-bred horses had remarkable success overseas, winning prize-money totalling €20 million. Nine of the ten Classics run in Britain and Ireland were won by Irish-bred horses. This year Irish-trained horses once again equalled the record of eight wins at Royal Ascot and Irish trainers had a superb final day at Cheltenham to secure a total of 12 winners over the course of the festival.

“I welcome the increase in new owners which has really been a focus this year and coincides with our Racehorse Ownership Manager promoting new ownership and working with existing owners. However, there has been a drop in the number of active owners and a decline in the number of horses in training which shows that we are still under a lot of pressure. The 10% drop in entries can partially be explained by the reduction in races – there were 22 less races and one less fixture compared to the same period last year.”

Overall turnover at Tote Ireland rose by 11.3%, with gains on-course, off-course and across international pools. On-course bookmakers showed further decline but not as markedly as in previous years.

“New strategies and developments implemented at Tote are coming to fruition with increases in turnover across the board, said Kavanagh. “Although on-course betting overall shows a slight decrease, it does appear that the decline over recent years may be bottoming out. Returning on-course betting to growth remains a challenge for the industry.”

Attendances at Irish racecourses grew by 5% in the first half of 2014, with the average attendance rising by 5.7%. Commenting on this trend, Kavanagh explained: “The tangible rise in attendances is a positive development.  Racecourses have been working hard to improve their public offering and they have really been pushing to get more people through the gates and to ensure that they come back. All of the major racing festivals including Punchestown, the Fairyhouse Easter Festival and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby increased their attendances year-on-year.”

“There are a number of positives to take from the six-month figures,” said Kavanagh, “but the reality remains that the industry is still struggling.  The strong bloodstock sales figures leave no doubt that the industry delivers inward investment and a valuable return on investment, but in order to capitalise on this success and tackle future issues, we need to be on a more secure financial footing.  Ownership levels, on-course betting and continuing to grow our attendances will remain the priorities. These issues tie in to the fact that there is a lot of work still to be done on racecourse facilities, which we will be able to assist when we are operating off a secure funding base. In that regard, I welcome the progress of the Betting (Amendment) Bill in the Dáil this week.”

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