HORSE Racing Ireland boss Suzanne Eade says HRI must “fight tooth and nail” to get the public to go racing this year after virtually two years of social restrictions.

There are signs of encouragement, with a crowd of 8,765 paying adults at Gowran Park on Thursday (pictured above) suggesting the public’s appetite for racing remains strong.

Leopardstown will be hoping for 10,000 or more to flow through the entrance building each day of the Dublin Racing Festival next weekend, but it will be challenging to attract the paying public to attend less high-profile fixtures.

Eade, who succeeded Brian Kavanagh as CEO of HRI last September, said: “The lockdowns have caused difficulties for many industries, not just ours, but throughout we have seen increasing engagement with Irish racing, underlined by the strong figures we have seen in racehorse ownership in 2021.

“Now we have to roll up our sleeves and fight tooth and nail to convert those potential new fans into active racegoers, and encourage all those who have lost the habit during Covid, to return. We will be rolling out innovative digital and mainstream media campaigns this spring to do just that, and our marketing team will be working with racecourses to create the ‘ultimate family day’ to bring families back racing and closer to the action.”

Eade’s comments coincided with the publication of key racing industry statistics for 2021 by HRI. They show that the number of horses in training last year was up over 14% on 2020 and up 18.2% on 2019. This is the fifth such increase in six years. Overall ownership (4,900 owners) was up 20% on the levels seen in the previous two years.

The growth in racehorse ownership and horses-in-training led to an increased demand for opportunities to run during 2021. Although 14 extra fixtures were added to the schedule, there has a been an increase of over 170% in the number of eliminations since 2019, especially in the first half of the year.

Eade said: “So many of the figures announced today show a remarkable resilience in the horse racing and breeding industries. The figures for the numbers of horses-in-training have jumped by over 14% year-on-year at a time when attendance of owners at racemeetings was severely curtailed.

“That support from owners is vital, placing the industry on a secure footing and reflecting favourably on levels of employment across the industry and the wider economic activity that brings.

“It is hugely encouraging that all categories of ownership have grown and a record owner retention rate is a terrific vote of confidence in the industry.

“Irish bloodstock sales were hit very badly in 2020 but last year’s figures for horses sold at public auction improved greatly with a succession of sales performing well. There was a vibrant trade at the Irish store sales and buyers from 22 countries invested at Irish yearling sales, with Irish-foaled horses sold to 31 countries in all.”

Key racing industry statistics

  • Horses-in-training up 14.4% on 2020, up 18.2% on 2019
  • Total ownership up 20.1% on 2020, up 20.7% on 2019
  • Bloodstock sales up 71.3% on 2020, up 10.6% on 2019
  • Total Tote betting up 10% on 2020, down 6.6% on 2019
  • On-course bookmaker betting up 68% on 2020, down 81% on 2019
  • Total attendances up 97% on 2020, down 82% on 2019
  • Total prizemoney up 22% on 2020, down 6.4% on 2019