The pace of decline in official attendances at Irish race meetings slowed in the second half of 2022.
After a worrying 10 per cent drop in the first six months of last year, the rate of decline reversed to just 2.2 per cent in the latter part of 2022 compared to the same period in 2019.
It meant total attendances at the country’s 26 racecourses was down 5.1 per cent overall on 2019.
That was the last year prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and was the principal comparative point of reference when Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) released statistics for 2022 on Friday.
The slowdown in the rate of decline in crowd figures is welcome news for the ruling body and HRI pointed to encouraging crowd levels, including at Leopardstown’s Christmas festival, as evidence of the sport’s continuing spectator appeal.
Leopardstown, which is operated by HRI, reported a total attendance of 60,478 over the four days of its Christmas festival. That was up on the 57,035 figure set in 2019, the last time the track was allowed unrestricted crowds for those dates.
“While the cost of living continues to be an issue for all industries, we can be confident heading into 2023 that racing remains extremely popular in Ireland with attendances rallying strongly in the second half of 2022,” said HRI’s chief executive, Suzanne Eade.
“Attracting more than nine out of every 10 people that went racing before the pandemic, back to the racecourse, is a tribute to the work put in by the tracks.
“It was encouraging to see such strong end-of-year crowds at Navan for Troytown Day and at Fairyhouse for the Drinmore meeting, at Naas, Punchestown and Down Royal to name just a few, and of course a very strong performance at the Leopardstown Christmas festival.
“2023 got off to a great start with an incredible day at a well-attended Tramore,” she added.
The 2022 attendances came from 388 fixtures compared to 363 in 2019. There were a record 394 fixtures in 2021 when the pandemic resulted in point-to-point horses having to compete at racetracks.
A decade ago, total crowd figures were over 1.9 million from a total fixture list of 350 meetings.
There were significant increases reported in bloodstock sales last year while the number of owners was up 17.1 per cent to 4,757. The number of syndicates rose for a fourth year in a row and last year’s total of 825 was up almost a quarter on 2019. The figure includes 240 syndicates set up in 2022 alone.
Separately, there were 10,208 horses in training last year, up 14.1 per cent on 2019 but slightly lower on 2021 due to the significant number of point-to-point runners that were registered that year.
However, on-course betting figures slipped with bookmakers in the ring handling €57 million compared to €58.4 million in 2019.
A significant 28 per cent increase in domestic pool betting compared to 2019 helped total Tote turnover reach €71.2 million.