Harold’s Cross survival depends on an upturn in the industry’s fortunes

The IGB’s reply to the Indecon Report was released this week and it’s a comprehensive response to the company’s recommendations.

In the document, it was made quite clear Harold’s Cross remains on the Green Mile. That’s more than just a thorny issue for those who protested at the Dublin venue recently, and all who supported the track down through the years and worked to keep it profitable through tough times.

The site will have to be rezoned but that’s hardly a stumbling block given government and bank involvement.

Last week, the industry was given additional funding by the government, but not so much that it would make a significant impact on the current plight or turn it around with any immediacy.

It has been made clear that much of what will be received over the next five years will be used to fund debt but, without a sizeable contribution from the industry itself, it will be a case of jamming a thumb in the dam, or just pushing the problem further down the road, which is not something the banks are likely to tolerate.

Is there any way Harold’s Cross can survive as a greyhound stadium? Yes, but it needs a sudden upturn in the fortunes of the industry, or a businessperson to step in to take it over, in which case the cost of purchase might be an issue.

When Minister Tom Hayes spoke on Tipp FM last week about the sale of the track, it seemed to upset many people, apparently as much for the way in which it was delivered as the message itself.

Put yourself in the IGB’s shoes for a moment. The government has given you a financial boost but it’s not adequate to fully service a mounting debt, over which the bank is on your back. A respected consultancy has issued a report suggesting the sale of an asset which would put quite a sizeable hole in the debt and, to some degree, appease your creditors. Are you going to come out publicly and say ‘we’re ignoring the professional advice we’ve been given, and refusing to sell Harold’s Cross?’

Whether or not you wished to do that, it would be entirely irresponsible and only draw further pain. Unless, of course, you had a viable alternative.

This week’s published document stated: ‘The IGB is also pursuing television content contracts with a number of operators who currently sell such content to various wagering outlets,’ before adding ‘The IGB are in advanced negotiations with a number of TV providers’.

For quite some time now we’ve been hearing bits and pieces about this but haven’t seen anything concrete. Were such a sale(s) to go through and the IGB able to show a significant and sustainable income from such, I suspect there might be a degree of flexibility with the banks, perhaps preventing the sale of such a valuable asset as Harold’s Cross. Promises of such or talk of contracts, though, aren’t enough and the time for negotiations to turn into revenue is short.

The sale of Harold’s Cross is unlikely to happen overnight, however, and perhaps there is no party which will be interested in purchasing it at a price which will satisfy the IGB and the banks. The reality is that picketing or protesting or other such actions will not save the track if other means of financing the debt are not found, but that shouldn’t prevent those involved from doing so, should they wish. There are still plenty of passionate supporters in the game and when they’re gone, it’s all gone.

Other notably concerning issues in the report came from the ‘calibration of racing proposals’. In addition to reducing the number of meetings by 86 for 2015, it is proposed to ‘change the racing programmes in selected stadia from the current schedule to a revised schedule based on a review of the commercial operations associated with the related programmes. The planed [sic] rescheduling will include racing two nights per week from a current 3 night schedule; additionally extending racing one night per week for 2015 for stadia selected’.

They also plans to ‘reduce reliance stadia have placed on the IGB to sponsor higher profile events’. The extent of that, and the effect it will have on the value of our classics is unspecified but the future of some of these events must be in doubt.

The IGB App has come under in for much, justifiable, criticism over the past few months. It remains a service of great potential, but poor execution. Its future and that of the website look very different to what we currently experience, and there is a hope that the website, which will likely have a dedicated betting section, will allow the account holder to seamlessly bet on and view live horse racing as well as greyhound racing.

In addition, it is being proposed that the availability of split time, freeze frames, etc. could be introduced, for which a daily rate would be charged, and income from such would be ‘ring-fenced to assist development of owners and breeders incentive schemes’.

Virtually all of which was proposed by Indecon has been addressed, and so, in acknowledgement of the certain opposition to much of the reply, the catch-all conclusion adds: ‘There are likely to be many more practical challenges in the coming months as the IGB embarks on the implementation of this report. There will undoubtedly be instances of the IGB seemingly working against the interests of individuals or particular interest groups as specific decisions are taken.

’All views will be considered before any decision is taken. While there will be ongoing consultation on the progress of these implementations, IGB is committed to submit a formal appraisal progression report of all recommendations to Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine by year end 2015’.

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Last weekend the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish Laurels came to a conclusion and there was great response to Vimmerby’s victory for trainer Johnny Kavanagh and John Somers and his co-owners. It was a super competition, and best of all it produced a great result.

Alas, its date in the calendar remains uncertain, but if we remain with the positives for the moment, the sponsors should be lauded for the bitches’ bonus which attracted 14 runners of top quality.

Two of those made the final, and were not without their chances of lifting the big prize. The €3,000 bonus, which Nellies Flyer earned, provided a race within a race, and added to the occasion. I wonder if it’s something which other sponsors might consider introducing in the future.

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Tomorrow night’s meeting at Youghal track is a benefit for the local GAA club, while the Bank Holiday meeting, on Monday next, will start at the usual time, 7.55pm, and will feature the finals of the Rising Kennels Unraced Stake and the Kasko Southern Sprint.


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