This week Galway once again seamlessly transitions from the Galway Arts Festival to the Racing Festival at Ballybrit, moving from one form of high drama to another and from one heady combination of tension, tears and laughter to another. Over the course of the week, there will be heroes, villains, tragic and comic moments, with lots of money changing hands (largely in one direction!).
Galway remains the largest horse-racing event in Ireland. Attendance has fallen since the heady days of the Celtic Tiger, however, in 2011 there were over 160,000 people in attendance over the seven days of racing, with over 46,000 making the special effort for Ladies’ day (Thursday).
Horse racing is one of Ireland’s longest established indigenous industries. The 2009 Dukes report established that the industry was contributing circa €1 billion to the economy and employed circa 16,000 people. Internationally, Irish bred and trained horses have a reputation that is second to none. Six of the top ten in the world thoroughbred ranked two year-olds are Irish trained. Ireland is the largest exporter of thoroughbred foals in Europe and we export circa 50 per cent of our total produce – an industry with a revenue potential of some €200 million per annum (source HRI 2010 annual report).
A review of the numbers involved may surprise people. According to the 2011 HRI Factbook, there are only 220 stallions registered at stud in Ireland, with some 13,761 mares and 7,550 foals. These numbers represent a very significant drop from the 2007 numbers when there were 411 stallions, 20,700 mares and 12,633 foals. Sales have also taken a substantial hit – at €81 million in 2011 the market saw a marked recovery from the 2010 figure of €68 million. This is again a marked contrast with the 2007 figure of €179 million.
The end of the Celtic Tiger also meant a big fall off in ownership. The number of syndicates (where a group of people club together to own a horse collectively) has fallen from nearly 1,500 to 777 as people find that they can no longer afford the ‘running’ cost of their horse.
The good news is that the industry seems to have stabilised. 2011 was actually a positive year, with strong growth in sales, a three per cent increase in attendance and remarkable success for Irish trained horses abroad. As we continue the long struggle to recovery, we have to recognise that Ireland has a very attractive product and we need to make sure that we continue to support and develop our equine industry. It generates both revenue and employment (not to mention a lot of good days out!).
So, enjoy the races this week and, if you are having a flutter, remember Harry S Truman’s words to the wise: “It isn’t important who is ahead one time or another, in either an election or a horse race. It’s the horse that comes in first at the finish that counts.”