The 2017 Cheltenham Festival ended last Friday and proved to be a remarkable four days for horse racing in this country. Irish trained horses won 19 of the 28 races, beating last year’s previous best of 15. For the second year running there were more Irish trained winners than English, which is all the more remarkable given that “15 Irish winners or more” could be backed at odds of 4/1 as late as Tuesday morning. Irish trained horses won 3 or the top 4 prizes, and Ireland also dominated the leading trainer and jockey tables.
Much of this success can probably be put down to state investment in the sport. From 2008 to 2017 Revised Estimates of Public Expenditure show that the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund was allocated just under €650 million through the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism and more recently the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Of this, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) received just over €500 million.
While national hunt racing is just one part of the sport, the majority of this funding is used to subsidise prize money at the 26 race courses on the island of Ireland. HRI support equates to roughly two-thirds of the prize fund, with owners, sponsors, funding from Northern Ireland and the European Breeders Fund contributing the remainder. The HRI 2016 Factbook discusses the recent improvement in most indicators in the sport, with only the trend in on-course bookmaker numbers a current cause for concern. The reason for this is largely explained by technological innovations and the resulting rise in online gambling.
The funding of horse racing can be compared to all other sports. Sport Ireland (formerly the Irish Sports Council) is partly responsible for these (their website lists more than 60 sports) and received just over €550 million for the ten-year period from 2008 to 2017. This includes payments to the National Sports Campus from 2012. This equates to a 94 cent investment in Horse Racing Ireland (administering a single sport), for every €1 investment in Sport Ireland, which covers everything from angling to wresting.
While the 2017 Revised Estimates indicate the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund will surpass its pre-crash allocation this year, Sport Ireland will experience a drop in funding year-on-year. If the country wishes to replicate the remarkable performance of Irish national hunt racing in other sports, further investment in Sport Ireland should be priority.
Continued success in the Cotswold can be expected in the years ahead.