Industry enjoys positive 2016 but on-course bookmakers struggle
The 2016 Irish industry figures, released by Horse Racing Ireland on Thursday, made for pleasant reading with notable increases in attendances, owners, horses in training and bloodstock sales. However, another couple of nails were hammered into the coffin of on-course bookmakers as betting at Irish tracks fell by a further 5.5 per cent.
Overall, it was a positive year for HRI and its chief executive Brian Kavanagh, who endured a troublesome 2016 himself over his reappointment for a third term but was understandably pleased with the way the industry performed.
"It was a very positive year for Irish racing and we are looking forward to building on this as we face the challenges and opportunities that are ahead of us in 2017," Kavanagh said.
The number of active owners rose by 1.5 per cent in 2016 to 3,663 (new owners up 9.5 per cent), with the knock-on effect a 4.2 per cent increase in the number of horses in training to 8,561. It is the first increase in that area since 2008.
Average field sizes during the year was 11.2, up from 10.7 in 2015, and Dundalk certainly seems to be serving its purpose as the total number of Flat runners in 2016 was up 10.7 per cent to 12,801.
It was the seventh year in a row that bloodstock sales have been on the rise, a 7.7 per cent increase to €164.2 million, while export sales at public action was up 1.9 per cent to €272.9m.
Prize-money grew by 6.3 per cent to €56.8m and a further 6.5 per cent increase has been budgeted for in 2017, while commercial sponsorship was up 12 per cent to €4.8m.
Attendances increased by 3.3 per cent to 1.32 million for the 357 fixtures, with the average attendance per fixture up to 3,692 from 3,625 in 2015.
"A strong Christmas, with increased crowds at Leopardstown and Limerick, saw total attendances for the year increase by 3.3 per cent, which reflects well on the work being done by racecourses to attract customers to their meetings," Kavanagh said.
"Highlights of the year were the festivals at Punchestown, Galway and Listowel, along with Longines Irish Champions Weekend. The smaller summer festivals and race meetings continue to perform strongly."
Tote Ireland saw a sixth successive year of turnover growth. Revenue grew by 22 per cent to €96.8m in 2016, with international markets and customers betting into Irish pools playing a huge part in that impressive increase.
The one area of real concern for HRI is on-course bookmakers. The amount that crossed hands in the betting ring at racecourses fell by a further 5.5 per cent in 2016, from €69.3m to €65.5m. Kavanagh stressed that HRI will assist bookmakers in any way they can.
He said: "On-course bookmaker betting unfortunately continued to decline, although the figures towards the end of the year improved.
"Racecourses and bookmakers are working closer together to improve the way that this betting service is delivered, including for example, the positioning of bookmakers in corporate facilities and other areas away from the traditional betting ring. HRI will continue to assist in any way it can and recently announced a reduction in the on-course bookmakers' levy."