Horse Racing Ireland boss Suzanne Eade has put attendance figures towards the top of her priority list for the remainder of 2023 and hailed the resilience of owners against the backdrop of the cost of living crisis as the six-month statistics were revealed on Thursday.
Attendances have climbed 7.6% to 544,147 for the first six months of the year while sponsorship rose 4.8% to €4.4m with horses winning overall prize money of €30.6m. That is up 1% on last year's corresponding figures, despite a reduction in the number of race meetings by two to 176.
Eade commented, “I welcome these figures as a testament to the resilience of the Irish racing and breeding industry. On the back of consistent Government support, our industry continues to be a key contributor to rural communities in virtually every county, providing direct and indirect employment at every turn and a vital social outlet to so many people.
“Despite the increases in the cost of living, it is noticeable how well the number of horses-in-training is holding up and the increase in the overall attendance figure by 7.6% is certainly to be welcomed. Pushing for increased attendances at all 26 racecourses is a key aspect of our ongoing marketing campaigns and the undoubted interest in racing is again resulting in a greater number of racegoers, a trend we hope to see continuing into next week's Galway Festival and the key early autumn meetings at Irish Champions Festival and the Listowel Festival.”
Total Tote Betting (excluding World Pools) for the first half of the year is up 6.3% at €33.9m. The World Pool was incorporated at the Curragh on Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Day for the first time with 28 pool betting operators from around the globe wagering an additional €25.8m across the eight races. Total on-course betting reached €36.1m with on-course bookmakers handling €32.1m and on-course shops returning an overall figure of €4.4m.
The total number of horses-in-training during the period rose by almost 300 to 8,614 (up 3.3%), but the number of active owners fell by the same percentage to 3,843. The number of new owners registered in the first half of 2023 was 455.
While the Goffs Punchestown Sale and the Tattersalls Ireland Breeze-up Sale performed well and there was a strong demand at the store sales, the figure for bloodstock sales at public auction overall fell by 2.4% to €61m.
Eade continued, “Field sizes, whilst still bearing very healthy international comparisons, are down marginally and it is vital that there is continued investment in the racing programme and prize money to ensure that we continue to attract and retain owners.
“The increase in the betting, both with Tote and the bookmakers, is a further boost for the industry. For the first time, we have two World Pool days, one in each half of the year, and on the back of the success of the initiative at the Curragh on Derby Day, we can look forward to Irish racing being back in the international spotlight for the opening leg of the 2023 Irish Champions Festival at Leopardstown in a little over six weeks' time. These days both raise awareness of the Tote and deliver a significant return to Irish racing.
“Another vote of confidence in the industry is provided by the numbers relating to the sale of horses at public auction. While an overall spend of €61m is slightly behind the same period last year, it is heartening that demand for Irish bred and reared horses continues to be strong across the board.”