Horse Racing Ireland attack Government over betting tax
Outgoing chairman Joe Keeling says some cabinet members need to adopt ‘some bravery’
Chairman of HRI, Joe Keeling, with Kate Harrington, Jessica Harrington, jockey Robbie Power and Emma Galway accepting horse of the year award for Sizing John who won the Horse of the Year Award the annual Horse Racing Ireland Awards at Leopardstown Racecourse on Tuesday. Photograph: Chris Bellew / Fennells
Keeling’s tenure as HRI chairman is due to end in March and he used Tuesday’s 15th Horse Racing Ireland Awards to declare that some cabinet members need to adopt “some bravery” on the betting tax issue.
Irish racing received €64 million in State money through the Horse & Greyhound Fund in 2017. But there was widespread disappointment in the sport when that allocation stayed the same in Budget 2018.
Prior to the budget announcement the HRI had lobbied for an increase in betting tax to help finance the Horse & Greyhound Fund but the government was unmoved by their argument.
Keeling referenced a Deloitte report, commissioned by HRI, which reported the racing and breeding industries contributing €1.8 billion to the Irish economy and almost 29,000 direct and indirect jobs.
“In this country there are 50 thoroughbreds per 10,000 of population, a figure which is many multiples of our global competitors and ten times more than Britain.
“All this serves to underline how disappointed I am with the baffling lack of support we received from the Government this year when we and others sought to increase betting tax levels in Ireland from our current rate which is one of the lowest in the world.
“It makes no sense for the Government to continue to ignore the solution put forward by Horse Racing Ireland and virtually everybody in the industry in relation to betting tax,” Keeling said.
Supporting the sport
The HRI chairman was speaking in front of the Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine, Michael Creed who he praised for supporting the sport.
“While Minister Creed could not have been more encouraging or helpful it is time some of the Minister’s colleagues adopted some bravery on this matter,” said Keeling.
He described State financial support for racing as a “stimulus not a subsidy” and said racing and breeding offer “an incredible dividend to the State”.
Keeling added: “We could become number one in the world instead of number three if we had more support.”
Creed was commended for taking time out from Government focus on the Brexit issue to attend the ceremony at Leopardstown where Sizing John was crowned 2017’s Horse of the Year.
The Minister acknowledged there had been no increase to the Horse & Greyhound Fund for 2018 but said budgetary constraints had dictated that.
However he added: “There were three successive years of a €6 million increase to get to that €64 million which is a sign of the government’s commitment to the equine sector.”
Creed praised Keeling’s reign as HRI chairman and said he was a man of “the highest integrity” who had worked tirelessly for racing.
Keeling pointed to a number of initiatives during his five years in charge of HRI such as the introduction of Irish Champions Weekend in 2014 and the new Dublin Racing Festival which will take place at Leopardstown in February.
He also said there had been a 30 per cent reduction in HRI charges to owners and added: “One of our objectives was to move the owner to the centre of decision making.”
The Brexit negotiations were also referenced after Down Royal received the Racecourse of the Year award.
Down Royal is one of two tracks in the North of Ireland which come under racing’s 32 county jurisdiction. The potential impact of Brexit on the sport in Ireland has been a concern for racing officials here.
However Down Royal’s James Nicholson played down the issue and said: “Things will get sorted out eventually when business sense takes over.”
Aidan O’Brien is gearing up a team of five runners for Sunday’s Hong Kong International Carnival but his world record breaking Group One year was recognised with a Contribution to the Industry award.
O’Brien received recorded tributes, including one from Taoiseach Leo Varadakar who said the champion trainer’s “achievements are outweighed only his modesty” and contributed to “Ireland being at the top table in the world when it comes to the horse industry.”
HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh added that O’Brien had “made the extraordinary normal” over the last 20 years.
Jessica Harrington confirmed that her history making Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John will return to action in Sunday’s John Durkan Chase at Punchestown and the trainer also picked up the National Hunt award on Tuesday.
Ireland’s new champion jockey Colin Keane won the flat prize while Barry O’Neill won the point to point award. Joseph O’Brien was honoured in the Outstanding Achievement category after last month’s Melbourne Cup victory with Rekindling.
Contribution to the Industry Award: Aidan O’Brien
Horse of the Year Award: Sizing John
National Hunt Award: Jessica Harrington
Flat Award: Colin Keane
Outstanding Achievement Award: Joseph O’Brien
Point-To-Point Award: Barry O’Neill
Racecourse of the Year Award: Down Royal Racecourse