Racecourse association stands over distribution of media rights income

Aidan O’Brien’s Grade One ambitions switch to New York on Saturday

The body that represents Ireland’s racecourses has said it stands over the distribution of vital media rights income to the country’s 26 tracks.

At a recent Oireachtas Agriculture Committee hearing, Horse Racing Ireland was accused of “abusing its position” in relation to how much media rights revenue it takes for itself as well as favouring bigger racecourses, including the four it runs itself, in capital development projects.

Those charge was rejected by HRI’s chief executive Suzanne Eade but the comments made by Senator Ronan Mullen were on the back of unease privately expressed by some smaller racetracks at the current arrangements.

Income from the televising of Irish racing is pivotal to most Irish racecourses and was central to the survival of many of them during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The current media rights deal runs to the end of 2023 and is understood to be worth up to €40 million a year to Irish racing. About 85 per cent of the sale of those rights goes to the racecourses, with the remainder going to HRI.

Negotiations on a new deal are ongoing and expected to be completed later this year. The sector is represented in those negotiations by a HRI media rights committee chaired by the Punchestown chief executive, Conor O’Neill.

Despite such apparent disquiet among some of its tracks, the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) has said it “absolutely” stands over the media rights deal and played down the scale of unrest among its members.

“I wouldn’t say it is widespread, but you’ll appreciate that in a group of 26 racecourses everybody isn’t going to see everything exactly eye to eye all the time and there are people who will have differences,” said the AIR chief executive, Paddy Walsh.

“AIR try to represent the general view of all the racecourses but there will be occasions, maybe, when a small number of racecourses might have a different view to the overall view.

“My simple view on that is that they are entitled to have their opinion but if they’re talking to other people, be they Oireachtas committees or whatever it is, they’re talking on behalf of themselves, not on behalf of the general membership, or on behalf of AIR.

“We are aware of the views that they have. They have come and spoken to me, and we would have been fully aware of their position. But at the same time that’s their view and we in the AIR and the general body of the membership have different views,” he added.

Under the current deal signed in 2017, Sports Information Services (SIS) and the Racecourse Media Group (RMG) control all pictures, including direct to home, international streaming, and betting offices, under one umbrella.

However, that could change, as in recent years demand for international and streaming rights has increased.

Eade declined to discuss specific details of possible future arrangements with the Oireachtas committee last month, citing “commercial sensitivities”.

In other news, Aidan O’Brien hasn’t found this year’s European Classics as productive as normal but has a different kind of Derby-Oaks double in his sights in New York on Saturday night.

Ireland’s champion trainer is targeting Stone Age at the $1 million Belmont Derby over 10 furlongs, while Concert Hall is set to fly the Ballydoyle flag in the $700,000 Belmont Oaks on the same programme.

Joseph O’Brien also has a shot at the Oaks with his consistent filly Agartha.

Both Grade One turf events fell to O’Brien Snr in 2021 through Bolshoi Ballet and the ill-fated Santa Barbara. He was also victorious in the 2016 Derby through Deauville and the 2018 Oaks with Athena.

Stone Age has been installed a 6-4 favourite to emerge on top in the colt’s race which looks to be dominated by European-based horses.

Godolphin’s Nations Pride, two places behind Stone Age when eighth in the Epsom Derby, will have the assistance of Frankie Dettori in the saddle, while Royal Patronage, who beat only one home at Epsom, will have his last start for Mark & Charlie Johnston.

Tuesday’s Epsom Oaks success is one of just two Group One victories O’Brien has enjoyed so far in 2022. Kyprios’ victory in the Ascot Gold Cup is the other in a campaign where the absence of the injured Luxembourg continues to be keenly felt.

Two other Ballydoyle three-year-olds, Cadamosto and New York City, are among 16 horses left in Saturday afternoon’s Darley July Cup at Newmarket.

There are another pair of Irish-trained hopefuls in the mix after Monday’s acceptance stage, Eddie Lynam’s Group One-winning mare Romantic Proposal and Michael O’Callaghan’s Twilight Jet.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column