A LOT of progress has been made in providing opportunities for National Hunt fillies since the subject took centre stage at the ITBA Expo in 2012.

At that event there were calls for an incentive scheme which would encourage breeders to race their fillies prior to sending them to the covering shed.

There was a view that the market did not want National Hunt fillies and few wanted to train them.

The ITBA pushed hard for an increase in the mares’ weight allowance, which jumped from 5lb to 7lb.

In 2013 the ITBA National Hunt Fillies Scheme was introduced. This scheme rewarded owners with an additional €5,000 when their mare won a mares’ bumper, maiden hurdle or beginners chase.

Now supported by Weatherbys, the scheme has made an immense impact with 204 individual winners, of which 195 were Irish-bred. A total of 141 different owners (with horses handled by 70 individual trainers) paying out in excess of €1 million in additional prize money.

More fillies are returned in training year-on-year with the percentage of fillies sold at major store sales increasing to an acceptable level.

The scheme has been extended to include a number of handicap hurdles throughout the year for those fillies who have not won a maiden.

The ITBA also supports the very well-received Irish EBF Auction Series, meaning that a National Hunt filly, who is registered for the scheme, that wins a series race will received an additional €5,000 on top of the (minimum) €12,500 in prize-money.

The racing and breeding industry is committed to suporting National Hunt fillies and the success of this scheme is a result of the continued support of our title sponsor, Weatherbys Ireland, and the substantial financial contribution from Horse Racing Ireland.

Russell Ferris, chief executive of Weatherbys Ireland, commented: “Weatherbys Ireland General Stud Book has, for many years, supported the thoroughbred industry through a large number of initiatives and sponsorships.

“However, it is our title sponsorship of the ITBA Fillies Scheme which is recognised as perhaps giving the most widespread industry benefit.

“This scheme is a fantastic initiative, established by the ITBA, and has delivered in its promise to raise the profile and return for National Hunt fillies.

“To reach the mark of €1 million in bonus payments to nominated fillies in such a short space of time is absolute testament to the recognition of the scheme and quality of the animals and races that are part of it.

“With equine superstars such as Shattered Love, Augusta Kate and Relegate graduating through the scheme, we are assured that the financial support we are providing is reaping dividends for the breeders and owners of fillies in racing.

“Our sponsorship of the scheme coincided with a very significant investment in our own processes and systems which, in 2017, saw the release of the GSB Online Digital Registration platform, which recorded nearly 70% of all Irish foal registrations.

“This year has seen further enhancements to the system to include stallions, broodmares, change of ownerships, breeder reports, news section and much more.

“We are delighted to continue to support the ITBA in the superb work they are doing to ensure the future sustainability and success of the Irish breeding industry.”