THERE was good news for racehorse owners this week when Horse Racing Ireland announced that its IRE Incentive would be expanded this year, while the Irish EBF confirmed it will match last year’s record contribution of €2.6 million towards prize money.

The IRE Incentive scheme awards a bonus of €10,000 to owners of Irish-bred winners of selected races across Ireland and Britain. It is mostly geared towards flat racing but also include a handful of auction hurdle races.

Winning owners receive the €10,000 bonus in the form of a voucher which can only be spent on Irish-breds at Irish sales. In its first year the scheme awarded over €1 million to over 90 individual owners. This contributed to more than €4 million in sales of Irish-breds.

The scheme covered 150 races last year and this will be increased to 200 this year. Qualifying races in Ireland are two-year-old fillies’ maidens; two-year-old auction maidens and median auction races; three-year-old median auction maidens; and National Hunt auction races. Scheme races in Britain include maidens for all sexes; novice races; and fillies’ listed races.

Charles O’Neill, Irish Thoroughbred Marketing CEO, said: “The multiplier effect of the scheme was clearly demonstrated in 2021, with just over €1 million in vouchers contributing to over €4 million in sales of Irish-breds.”

Trainer Johnny Murtagh, whose horses won €70,000 in bonuses last year, said: “For an owner wondering whether to go back to the sales, 10 grand in their pocket makes up their mind. Long may it continue, I think it’s a huge plus.”

Largest sponsor

Irish racing’s largest sponsor, the Irish European Breeders’ Fund, will again pump a record €2.6 million sponsorship into Irish prize money this year. This brings the overall contribution to nearly €54 million since the foundation of the Irish European Breeders’ Fund in 1983.

This spend will encompass nearly 500 races, both flat and National Hunt, that will carry EBF conditions throughout the year.

The mainstay of the Irish EBF sponsorship portfolio is the support given to two-year-old maidens, with 95% of all maiden races carrying EBF conditions and benefitting from added prize-money.

As an added feature for connections of two-year-olds, there are 52 series races on offer for two-year-olds with a total prize-fund of about €1.4 million.

The Median Sires Series will have 26 races and the successful Irish EBF Auction Series, now in its eighth year, will have 24 races and two finals including the Irish EBF Auction Series Final of €120,000 at Naas racecourse in October.

The €300,000 Irish EBF Ballyhane Stakes is a valuable showcase for median races and will take place on the August Bank Holiday Monday at Naas Racecourse this year.

The highlights of the support given to National Hunt races includes 22 series races worth over €480,000 including a €75,000 final available to horses bought at auction for €45,000/€30,000 or less.

The popular Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Hurdle Series has 16 qualifying races and a final at the Punchestown Festival which is backed up by the Irish EBF Auction Bumper Series with six races worth €15,000 each over the season.

As always, significant support is given towards mares races with about 50% of the National Hunt allocation targeted at mares’ chases, hurdle and bumper races.

Joe Foley, Irish EBF chairman, said: “The owners of every stallion standing in Ireland, big or small, flat or National Hunt, have contributed to this amount and as chairman, I’d like to thank them for their contributions.”

Cathal Beale, CEO of the Irish National Stud, commented: “As stallion owners, by contributing to the EBF, we are directly benefitting the end users, the owners. This in turn has a positive impact for trainers, sales companies, breeders and everyone involved in the industry. The scheme has stood the test of time and has had a remarkable impact.”

Catherine Cashman, Rathbarry and Glenview Studs, said: “We feel our annual contribution comes back to us by keeping owners engaged through buying at sales or breeding to race. Hopefully the Irish EBF will be around for another 40 years.”