Irish racing anxiously waiting for green light to resume

Estimates from 2018 report say Irish racecourses losing €5m a month while closed

Racehorses doing morning work at the Curragh last week. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Racehorses doing morning work at the Curragh last week. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Ireland’s racecourses are facing an economic “perfect storm” that won’t be fixed by any resumption of racing behind closed doors.

Whether or not the government eases social restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, or extends them past the current May 5th deadline, is expected to be announced later this week and racing is anxiously awaiting news of when it might be able to resume.

Racing here, along with all sports, has been cancelled for over a month due to the coronavirus emergency.

Germany is expected to allow a resumption of racing next week, and France is set to do the same a week later, so there are growing hopes within the sector here that action can start again in some form behind closed doors.

It is unclear what any resumption date might be although the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association has suggested June 1st could be the earliest realistic option.

Whenever it happens the sport’s ruling body, Horse Racing Ireland, continues to have a “racing ready” policy and could potentially be able to stage fixtures within a week of government giving a green light.

Such a development will be welcome news across all sectors but won’t prevent Ireland’s 26 racecourses from facing an uncertain financial outlook.

With mass gatherings of over 5,000 cancelled until September, there will be no spectators going racing while sponsorship and other income streams are also hit.

The closure of betting shops, both here and in UK, means there is also an impact on media rights income even if racing does resume.

“If you look at a Deloitte report we did in 2018, it showed the income of racecourses back in 2016 was €52 million. Realistically that’s up to €60 million now. So for every month closed, racecourses are losing €5 million.

“Even after a resumption there will still be a significant loss of revenue. So if you look at a Galway, or Punchestown or Curragh or any track that has good commercial revenue on top of media rights, if you go behind closed doors you don’t replace that revenue.

“You lose some of your race meeting costs but not enough to compensate. It’s a perfect storm for racecourses. They’ve literally lost all of their income,” said the HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

On top of commercial income, which also includes catering and a slice of on-course betting turnover, the vital media rights money, believed to be worth about €30 million a year to tracks, is cut while betting shops are closed.

Kavanagh said on Sunday that racecourses and on-course bookmakers, who aren’t allowed attend behind closed doors fixtures, are two sectors to the forefront of HRI’s concerns about how they will emerge from the current crisis.

Any first step back behind closed doors would be a welcome step although the HRI boss wouldn’t speculate on a potential resumption date despite encouraging signs recently in France and Germany.

“We’re in the hands of government on this,” he said before stressing that behind closed doors fixtures are very different events to normal meetings. Ten such meetings were run here before racing stopped on March 24th.

“They are not race meetings as you would traditionally know them. They are effectively being run for the industry, for horses to have an outlet to run. They’re not even sporting events almost.

“There is a work aspect to racing, an industry aspect, that is different from other sports.

“It’s really a matter for the medical authorities so I’m not going to speculate one way or the other. The focus is on the bigger national health picture at the moment,” Kavanagh said.

The board of Horse Racing Ireland is due to meet on Monday and a government announcement on restrictions will be made later this week ahead of the May 5th deadline.

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, already appears to have tried to dampen expectations of any extensive relaxation however, warning there won’t be a “big bang moment” in relation to easing social restrictions.

Kavanagh also warned on Sunday about the impact of the Covid-19 emergency on other racing sectors such as small trainers and those involved in bloodstock sales which have been disrupted.

“If you look at breeders, and the various breeze-up sales around Europe, 85 to 90 per cent of horses sold at those sales are in Ireland or are Irish horses.

“Holders of that stock are looking at value diminishing in front of their eyes. If you have a sharp two year old, and you’re looking at selling that in July or August, you’ve missed the boat,” he said.

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