An exceptional year by any standards, the key figures reflect the reality of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Irish racing and breeding industry, a reality shared with most industries across the country.
Racing has been staged behind closed doors in Ireland since it resumed on 8 June of last year and, aside from a small number of fixtures where owners were permitted to attend under Government guidelines at that time, there have been no attendances at Irish racetracks since March 2020.
Unsurprisingly, on-course betting turnover was also down almost 90%, while with a number of the major horse sales severely disrupted, or held overseas, bloodstock sales endured a challenging year.
However, the number of horses returned in training in Ireland has risen for a fourth time in five years, with a 3.3% increase recorded in 2020, reflecting the resilience of the ownership base.
Brian Kavanagh, CEO of HRI said, “The figures for the numbers of horses-in-training continued to grow year-on-year and this says so much about those involved in racehorse ownership. It is a testament to their resilience in the face of very challenging circumstances that they continue to stand by the industry and we look forward to a time when we can safely welcome owners – and obviously racegoers – back to our racetracks.
“Owners’ ongoing support is felt across the board and the numbers of horses in racing yards directly reflects on employment levels within the industry and on widespread economic activity in rural Ireland.”
The total number of active owners has increased to 4,080, a rise of 0.5%. There was a modest increase in the number of sole owners/partnerships and syndicates; the number of companies registered as owners remains the same as in 2020; while the number of racing clubs has risen by 6%. Owner retention is at 73.6%, a decrease of 1.5% on the previous year. The owner retention figure refers to the percentage of 2019 active owners who made a race entry in 2020.”
“2020 was a year when Bloodstock sales companies showed remarkable flexibility on a number of fronts. There were changes to sales’ dates and locations and there was extensive use of online sales. While this facilitated some trade, inevitably the end of year figures were well down on what might have been expected and this is a priority area for 2021.
“Like many other sectors, the Irish horse racing and breeding industry had a difficult 2020 and while there are some positives, effectively any comparison with previous years is futile.
“The continued absence of attendances is having a significant impact on racecourses. We acknowledge the hardship endured by on-course bookmakers, Tote, caterers and the many other businesses that depend on racecourses and racegoers, and Horse Racing Ireland and the Association of Irish Racecourses are eager to welcome everyone back once it is deemed appropriate by the Government,” the CEO added.