Cheltenham Success and Funding

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.

7 replies on “Cheltenham Success and Funding”

” …. further investment in Sport Ireland should be priority.”

Really? So, where are the Irish taxpayers ‘yachts’ then?

I can think of some much more worthier areas for the spending of taxpayers’ monies.

Funding and prizemoney is important and equally as important is that we seem to be uniquely talented and outrageously gifted in equestrian skills. Irish trainers and jockeys (male and female) are among the best in the world. Informed observers (e.g. the Englishman Brough Scott) regard Ruby Walsh as one of the greatest jockeys ever. So much so that two major English owners, Graham Wylie and Alan Potts, have some of their best horses trained in Ireland. Pre-Brexit there is no disadvantage sending horses from Ireland to raid the top English meetings. I think it should also be stated that National Hunt racing is more democratic than flat racing which is struggling to get crowds in Ireland no matter how high the quality of the horseflesh and horsemanship on view. Attendances at National Hunt meetings also tend to be from a broader social class than that those at flat racing meetings. It is important to stress the differences between NH and flat racing as the enormous money associated with the latter has tended to give the industry in general a bad name. One need only recall the glowing publicity given to the outrageously expensive wedding of the Coolmore Stud supremo’s daughter some years back which singlehandedly led to the ending of the special tax incentives for stallions in Ireland.

I wonder though if there is any detailed economic analysis of the impact of the NH industry and government funding outside of the morale boost of so many winners at Cheltenham?

“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.”

While absolutely everybody would congratulate the jockeys and trainers for their success at Cheltenham — and well done to the IRFU while we’re at it — I’m slightly shocked to hear horse racing got €650 million of taxpayer money since 2008.

For that sort of money the country could have e.g. made a good start at developing a nationwide system of free pre-school education. As much as I like to see an Irish winner at the races, I think there are better uses for those funds.

…or, possibly:

“If the country wishes to replicate the remarkable performance of Irish national hunt racing in other [sectors], further investment in [those sectors] should be priority.”

The Unites States once achieved remarkable success in a manned space programme which culminated in a man taking a golf stick to the moon and hitting a ball with it. Eventually people started to wonder about priorities.

Should sport be the priority?

“Should sport be the priority?”

No. But health, education, social protection and housing should be (urgent) priorities. Each of the foregoing is actually an integral part of a single, highly interconnected, very complex political problem which is becoming more and more intractable. However, ‘sport’ is not the only area where political priorities appear to be inverted in favour of a special interest group.

Would the sky fall if 500 mill was no longer given to sport – but was assigned to a priority area which did not have any special interest group rooting for it?

Wait – hold on there! Are there any such areas left anymore?

I agree largely with Robbie Butler’s main point – however, I’d add:

(1) As far as possible, tax breaks should be preferred to government funding as a way of getting money into sport, although I accept it could never cover it completely. I seem to recall Charlie McCreevey being pilloried for giving tax breaks to the horse industry, Seems to have paid off bigtime.

(2) Ireland is a small country and shouldn’t try to excel at every sport. It should be highly selective. It should pick the 6-8 sports it has a good record in and confine funding to them. There is no need to put any taxpayer money into tennis, water polo or beach volleyball (appealing though that one is to many).

(3) The only sports Ireland is any good at are those that are organised on a 32-county basis (obviously not all of them). I include in these GAA, boxing, all horse-sports, golf, rugby and even cricket. I’ve probably missed some out. Ireland has a dismal record in sports that have been partitioned. The two soccer leagues in Ireland are a joke. No money should be put into soccer until there is an all-Ireland team and league. If they refuse, money allocated for soccer should go to rugby instead.

(4) As far as possible, sports should be encouraged to fund themselves through paying spectators. In this regard it is shameful that the main stadium for rugby/soccer has such a small capacity. The Aviva mini-stadium only holds 50k. All the other Six Nations are circa 75k-80k. The way Bertie Ahern was savaged for wanting to build a world-class stadium in Dublin was typical Dublin 4 media begrudgery. Ireland was watched by the fewest number of spectators in the Six Nations. It will be even worse next season when they play 3 matches in Dublin. The Ireland v England match last weekend could easily have attracted 80k (indeed 100k if Ireland hadn’t flopped against Scotland and Wales and had been going for the Grand Slam too). Cardiff is about one-third the size of Dublin, but will be hosting the Champions League final this year, Difficult to see Dublin hosting that until it builds a much bigger stadium.

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