Improving Irish equine centre a ‘key priority’ for Horse Racing Ireland
HRI boss says facilities at centre are ‘not up to scratch’
Brian Kavanagh: “We want the Government to take assurance from the industry that the type of diagnostic and research work done there will be done to the highest international standards.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Facilities at the Irish Equine Centre have been described as “not up to scratch” and improving them is a key priority for racing’s ruling body amid continuing uncertainty over Brexit.
That aim for the independent non-profit organisation was outlined on Friday when Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) unveiled its 2019 budget. The release comes a month ahead of the unveiling of a new strategic five-year plan for the sport and industry.
The areas pinpointed in the latest budget appear to identify what racing’s priorities are likely to be in the longer-term.
They include €66.1 million of prizemoney next year as well as €9.5 million allocated to the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board for integrity services in 2019. That is up €400,000 on this year. More capital development on Irish racecourses is also planned for the New Year.
Another notable feature is how HRI says it aims to broaden the interest and appeal of racing through comprehensive marketing which will include a first TV advertising campaign in over a decade.
On Friday HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh denied there was any contradiction between ambitions to broaden racing’s appeal and the bulk of Irish racing’s coverage controversially moving behind a pay-wall on January 1st.
“The TV change is a positive change. Media right contracts are fundamental to the finances of racecourses and they’re a very significant income stream for racing in general. They’re essential to the level of capital development listed to take place,” he said.
“You have to look at media rights in the round and in the overall. There are three or four different aspects, of which is broadcast to home is one.
“In terms of interest and appeal it’s about the promotion of the sport in a way which allows racecourses to advertise and tell the story of the sport. They are two completely separate issues,” Kavanagh added.
Racing’s most immediate concern remains Brexit and the possibility of a no-deal scenario which could have devastating consequences for the movement of horses between the UK and Ireland.
Industry authorities in Ireland, Britain and France have submitted proposals to the European Commission for putting thoroughbreds into a ‘High Health’ categorisation in any new EU legislation that might replace the old tripartite agreement.
That guaranteed freedom of movement of horses between Europe’s three major racing jurisdictions and maintaining a similar situation for thoroughbreds is widely regarded as vital for the sport overall.
Such proposals rely on a political deal being reached before March 29th of next year but HRI is nevertheless keen to focus on the role the Irish Equine Centre can play. It has allocated a grant of €1.32 million to improve the Co Kildare-based operation.
“It is a key priority for us as it’s the insurance policy for the industry. It does diagnostic work, disease surveillance work and all that contributes to the health of the herd. It will be a critical factor in the new High Health Horse status we will be looking for after Brexit.
“We want the Government to take assurance from the industry that the type of diagnostic and research work done there will be done to the highest international standards.
“The Equine Centre in Johnstown has brilliant people who are world renowned in their fields. But their facilities are not up to scratch. They are over 40 years old and working on that is a key target,” Kavanagh said.
Another grant of €1.095 million has been approved by the HRI board to Irish Thoroughbred Marketing which it said in a statement is “particularly important as 2019 will see the UK exit from the EU”.
Prizemoney in Ireland will rise by €2.9 million next year compared to 2018 and increased sponsorship will add to the value of some of the sport’s most prestigious races.
“A significant element prizemoney growth is going to come from the racecourses. There are a number of races they’ve got increased sponsorship for, such as at the Dublin Racing Festival, the Curragh and Punchestown. These are internationally competitive races,” said Kavanagh.
He added that the UK’s departure from the EU in March will inevitably leave Ireland more isolated so it is important prizemoney is competitive.
“An area we have always focussed on is trying to attract people to own horses in Ireland,” he added.
The New Year will see a new and long-awaited anti-doping policy begin in Irish racing with guaranteed traceability of animals throughout their lifespan a central to that. Increased funding provision has been allocated by HRI to the IHRB to carry out extra responsibilities.
“This will feature increased levels of out of competition testing, enhancements to the IHRB security function and investment in upgraded IT systems,” a HRI statement outlined. “Increased funding has been allocated to equine welfare, including a new foal traceability system.”
Racing got a €3.2 million funding boost from the Government in October’s budget which has encouraged HRI to put together a new five-year strategic plan set to be announced next month.
“When the funding mechanism changed, and the economy crashed, it meant you moved to one-year plans because you had a one-year funding envelope,” Brian Kavanagh said, welcoming the move back to longer term planning.