Irish Racing Growth Continues Despite Pandemic in HRI Report

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A field in full flight in Ireland | HRI

Six-month statistics for horse racing and breeding in Ireland shows underlying growth in the industry despite the ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report was released by Horse Racing Ireland on Thursday.

The metrics of horses in training (+24%), owners (+23.9%), new owner (+31%),  runners (+23.8%), fixtures (+8.4%), and race numbers (+14.6) have all shown strong growth over the corresponding pre-pandemic figures for 2019. Attendance at Irish racecourses was the major area where figures suffered, as there has been no public attendance at any racemeeting in Ireland for the first half of 2021. Owners have been limited to just 200 per meeting and were only able to return to racecourses on June 7.

Brian Kavanagh, CEO of Horse Racing Ireland, said, “The increase in the number of active owners and newly registered owners in Ireland bodes well for the future as does the increase in the number of horses-in-training which is the lifeblood of the industry. This added investment by owners is reflected in the fixture list and the increase in the number of runners in both National Hunt and Flat races can only be of benefit to the industry, particularly in relation to employment.

“The major concern as we moved into 2021 was the absence of persons other than necessary workers from the racecourse and it was six months into the year before owners were able to return. The attendance figure that we publish today is primarily made up of the owners who went racing for a little over three weeks in June.

“Clearly this had a knock-on effect on betting figures, however it is encouraging to note the increase in Tote pool betting compared to the same period in 2019 which is a result of the strategic alliance between Tote Ireland and the UK Tote Group which has been in place since the start of this year.

“2020 saw the bloodstock market severely disrupted with sales frequently deferred or relocated out of Ireland due to travel restrictions. There were issues again earlier this year, but as the restrictions around international travel ease, we are hopeful that the second half of 2021 will bring a return to the growth which the sector has experienced in recent years. The turnover at bloodstock sales in the first half of 2021, particularly the Goffs Land Rover Sale and the Tattersalls Derby Sale was encouraging.

“The number of racemeetings held behind closed doors or with a limited attendance since racing resumed in June 2020 is now in excess of 500 and this has severely impacted racecourses and the various businesses which rely on them.

“The racecourses have proved resilient however and through Government support schemes, cost cutting measures, the HRI sponsorship incentive scheme and media rights revenues, they are managing their way through the crisis.  That said, these measures can only be temporary and as the vaccination programme rolls out further, it is important that Irish racecourses are able to welcome back larger crowds at racemeetings.”

Kavanagh concluded, “Overall, the industry has shown resilience in the first six months of 2021 coping with the twin challenges of Brexit and Covid-19.  There is a body of work to be done to restore attendances, prizemoney and race sponsorship levels, however the fundamentals of the industry remain strong and activity levels in owning, breeding and buying horses are increasing.  The industry continues to deliver in terms of rural employment.

“This was backed up by research carried out for HRI by Red C in February which showed that two out of five people (40%) surveyed in a nationwide poll declared an interest in horse racing, a significant increase from 23% in 2020.

“Off the track, the first six months saw much focus on horse welfare and anti-doping issues and Horse Racing Ireland is working closely with industry stakeholders on a number of issues in both areas and will provide updates on an ongoing basis as this work proceeds.”

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