Government’s HRI funding allocation a threat to plan for second all-weather circuit

Horse Racing Ireland chief says ruling body faces a “tight scenario” for 2020 budget

Plans to have a second all-weather track up and running by 2021 are under threat from the government's decision to not increase its funding to Horse Racing Ireland (HRI).

Last month’s budget saw racing’s state allocation for next year remain unchanged at €67.2 million. HRI, the industry’s ruling body, has said that decision will mean a “tight scenario” when it comes to finalising its own 2020 budget which is to be announced next month.

HRI's chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Friday that sacrifices will have to be made and he didn't rule out the possibility of a delay to the establishment of a second all-weather circuit.

The country's sole artificial racing surface in Dundalk has come under increasing pressure to cope with demand and earlier this year HRI committed to building a second all-weather.


Half a dozen original proposals have been whittled down to a couple of options although it is widely expected HRI’s own Tipperary track will wind up being recommended by an evaluation committee. The estimated cost of such a project has been reportedly put at close to €10 million.

However the government’s allocation means there will be funding pressure across all areas of the sport when the HRI board meets to confirm the 2020 budget on December 16th.

“We’re currently working on it and it makes things tight. We’ve pushed a growth strategy in recent years with prize money and investment in as many areas as we can. To do that we were dipping into reserves for the last couple of years.

“We want to continue to pursue a growth agenda but obviously sacrifices will have to be made. I’m not going to speculate where pressure points will come in terms of where spend goes but we’re looking at all options,” Kavanagh said.

"I know we can't do all we'd like to do. It's a tight scenario and we're mindful that, post-Brexit, Ireland will be more isolated than it has been.  We want a situation where the attractiveness of having a horse in training in Ireland remains as competitive as possible," he added.

HRI’s prize money budget for 2019 saw an almost €3 million increase to €66.1 million and the semi-state body has consistently put a priority on prize funds.

Commitments such as the integrity services, the Irish Equine Centre and the apprentice school appear to limit HRI's room to manoeuvre.

However Kavanagh stressed that any decision on the viability of going ahead with a second all-weather hasn’t been made and is ultimately a judgment for the HRI board.

“We’ve brought it to a stage where it comes to a stop-go situation. When our funding wasn’t increased we didn’t take a position that we’d push back the all-weather proposal. We said we’d bring it to a final evaluation proposal and make a decision in December, giving some clarity over how we’d like to go forward in that and a number of other areas.

“It’s the ambition of the board to still do these projects as soon as possible. But it’s not just about funding for next year. It’s about the next number of years.

“The government was clear this was a Brexit budget, framed in a context of uncertainty. Hopefully, in future, that uncertainty can be removed,” he said.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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