RACECOURSE attendances in Ireland for the first six months of this year were higher than the same period in any of the past 10 years.
A total of 555,000 went through the gates at the 167 fixtures staged in the first half of 2019, an increase of 8.8% on last year – though the 2018 crowd numbers were adversely affected by poor weather.
However, the increase this year is still significant, helped by the completion of the Curragh development and continued success of the Punchestown Festival.
Racecourse attendances peaked in 2008 when 600,000 people were clocked at the turnstiles in the opening six months. As the global financial crisis took effect, attendances dropped 17% in a year to 500,000 and they have increased only slowly in recent times.
Betting turnover on-course also benefited from the rising attendances this year. For the first time in recent memory turnover with racecourse bookmakers was up, rising by 11%. On-course Tote betting was also up a similar amount.
Statistics published by Horse Racing Ireland on Thursday also revealed that the number of active racehorse owners is up by 8.5% year-on-year, with the owner retention rate (owners active in two consecutive years) in Irish racing hitting a 10-year high at 87%.
New owner registrations were up by 9.5% year-on-year with 484 new owners registering with Horse Racing Ireland – the highest figure since 2008. This contributed to an increase in horses-in-training of 3.5% in the same period.
The increase in ownership figures and in horses-in-training positively impacted field sizes and individual runners. Field sizes are seen as one of the drivers of betting turnover and Irish racing posted a healthy average field size of 11.6 runners per race for the first six months of 2019. Individual runners were up by 9% to 5,217 and individual runners that won prizemoney were up by 6%.
Despite Brexit uncertainty, bloodstock sales returned a year-on-year increase, with modest gains of 1.3%. Total race sponsorship continued to rise strongly, building on growth in 2018 to post another increase – of 12.8% - in the first half of the year.
HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: “We have worked hard on bringing new owners into Irish racing and then, with the racecourses, ensuring that the ownership experience was positive so that the retention rate of our ownership base was high. It is pleasing therefore to see the rates of new owners and owner tracking at 10-year highs.
“Ownership has been a key focus for Horse Racing Ireland and among the policy approaches has been increased prizemoney, increased opportunities for every strand of owner, the reduced costs and, this year, to ensure that prize money filters down to six places. Particular credit must go to our ownership team who work with racecourses on the ownership experience, run marketing support programmes for trainers, and organised the inaugural and hugely successful Trainers’ Open Morning last May.
“The increased ownership base, allied to that retention of the business, has a huge impact on racing in Ireland because increased horses-in-training and participation all over the country benefits trainers and breeders, and every facet of the industry.
“The quality of young horses reared in Ireland and prepared for sales, together with the resilience of the market for Irish horses, brought strong figures at both National Hunt Store sales.
“It is always worth bearing in mind that, despite our size, we are the third biggest producers of thoroughbred foals in the world. Naturally, this means that we are significant exporters and 80% of those exports go to Britain. The challenges in terms of movement of animals, customs and tariffs, and potential protectionism that Brexit will visit upon us, could have detrimental consequences and we continue to work on behalf of the industry with our international racing colleagues, politicians and officials both in Ireland and in Brussels.”
KEY RACING INDUSTRY FIGURES FOR JANUARY-JUNE 2019
Horses-in-training up 3.5%
Active owners up 8.5%
Attendances up 9%
Average attendances up 6%
Prize money up 7%
Field sizes up 6.4%
Total runners up 10%
On-course bookmakers up 11.5%
Bloodstock sales up 1.3%
MORE ON THIS STORY IN THE IRISH FIELD ON SATURDAY