Nation of thoroughbreds in a photo-finish with the best in the world

FERGUS FINLAY (Irish Examiner, Nov 11) took the opportunity to criticise the Minister for Finance in the weeks coming up to the budget.

While that may be fair game in the world of politics, on this occasion Mr Finlay has misrepresented the work of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), the state body established to develop and promote the horse racing and breeding industry in this country.

Mr Finlay quotes selectively from the HRI strategic plan for the industry, which was published earlier this year.

That plan details 40 strategic goals encompassing racecourse development, training, education and employment, administration and integrity, development and promotion of the breeding sector and the overall funding of the industry.

In submitting the plan to the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, John O'Donoghue, HRI set out a clear rationale for the continuation of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund: "Ireland has many inherent advantages in the world of thoroughbred horse racing and breeding due to its natural environment, its human skills base, unique history and tradition of working with horses.

These natural gifts are not enough in themselves to create a world centre of excellence and the achievement of the mission will depend on our ability to establish clear business goals and put in place the resources of labour, capital and enterprise required to bring each to fruition."

Anyone reading Fergus Finlay's column could have been left with the impression that all HRI does with funds allocated to it by the Government is to redistribute them to wealthy owners via prizemoney.

Fergus, as a one-time paid consultant to the Turf Club, knows that there is a lot more than that to this industry.

The budget allocated to HRI is under public control and subject to audit like any other state body. We have a board representative of all sectors of the industry, including stable staff and others. In focusing on prizemoney, Fergus neglects to point out the wider activities of HRI.

What about the development of an infrastructure for the 25,000 jobs directly and indirectly sustained by the racing sector?

What about the development of world class racecourse facilities? What about the social and economic benefits of the racing festivals and hundreds of regular race meetings that are part of the lifeblood of the Irish rural economy?

The fact that Ireland is the third largest thoroughbred bloodstock nation in the world and that our horses and riders consistently succeed on the world stage is a source of pride for all Irish people.

Is Fergus suggesting that the investment made in the jobs in Irish racing and breeding produces less worthy employment than other sectors of the economy?

We are proud to help maintain and grow an indigenous skills base that has placed Ireland among the leading racing nations in the world.

We cannot accept the casual inference that people working in racing are unworthy beneficiaries of State largesse. It is of course easy to juxtapose expenditure in any sector against the needs of health, education and welfare and conclude that it is money wasted or misused.

It is also facile and ignores the contribution that such wider economic activity makes to these key sectors.

Racing has been, and can be, fully financed from the duties on betting turnover our five year plan sets that out clearly.

Fergus asks some fair questions in his column, but there is another one which could more fairly be put to us does Irish racing add to or detract from the common good?

A full reading of our five-year strategic plan will show that all our efforts are aimed at investment and growth in an industry which contributes hugely to the social, economic and sporting welfare of the country.

Prizemoney for races comes from many sources in addition to HRI breeders and owners foremost among them, in addition to commercial sponsors who place a real value on the benefits which racing delivers.

We do not merely throw increasing sums into the pot we simply ensure that Irish racing remains competitive and attracts the world's best horses to be trained here and to contest our world-class races.

Set beside the vast resources of the British racing industry, for example, we have a major job to do so.

Finally, I would point out that the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund mechanism was established to secure the future of two industries, both of which nurture a unique indigenous resource and contribute immeasurable benefits to national life.

Brian Kavanagh,

Chief Executive,

Horse Racing Ireland,

Thoroughbred County House,

Kill,

Co Kildare.

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