Funding increase possible as Kavanagh acknowledges pointing issues
Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh has described the point-to-point scene as a sector that "needs minding" and hasn't ruled out the prospect of another increase in funding to help address the challenges it faces.
In yesterday's Racing Post special report, Alan Sweetman documented the persistent slide in point-to-point participation numbers over the past decade.
Last year, HRI pledged an extra €728,000 to bring funding for point-to-points, which are regulated by the Turf Club's Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, to €2.2 million for 2017.
HRI has not received any extra funding from central government for 2018, but Kavanagh is aware of the sector's intrinsic value to the broader Irish racing scene.
"I couldn't disagree with anything I read," Kavanagh said of the report. "The point-to-point sector is an important sector and is one that needs minding.
"We improved our funding for point-to-point racing last year and it would be our ambition to continue to do that. Obviously we're in the middle of a budget process now, so I don't want to give any hostages to fortune, but it's a centre that is important to nurture.
Recovery has begun
"Last year's increase was welcomed and it was good value for money from our point of view. We'll sit down with the various bodies involved in point-to-pointing and the National Hunt committee over the coming weeks and look at a plan for next year."
Kavanagh suggested that reduced foal crops, which peaked at 12,633 in 2007, have played a part in the dramatic decline in the number of runners and handlers, although recovery has begun in that sphere, growing from a low of 7,550 in 2011 to 9,381 last year.
"We felt at the height of the boom that the foal crops were unsustainable and at an artificially high level, so, while you don't like to see it, there's bound to be some fall-off in participation," Kavanagh said.
"The issue is also the fact that some of the big operations are getting bigger and the number of individual participants are reducing."
Kavanagh added of the more concentrated focus on the commercially-centric four- and five-year-olds' maidens: "It's almost a different type of racing to the older maidens and open races, and they've proved an important boost for the sales as a source of trade for them.
"Obviously the tradition of point-to-pointing is a somewhat corinthian, amateur activity, and it's a challenge to try to marry the two."
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