The number of fixtures was up marginally on the previous year, but there was a significant increase in the number of entries in National Hunt and Flat races alike, with runners totalling almost 29,000, up 5% on 2015.
That figure tallied with an increase in the number of horses in training (up 4.2% to 6,561), while the number of active owners in the sport increased marginally to 3,663, of which 705 were new owners.
Total prizemoney for the year fell just short of €59m, which was a 6.3% increase on 2015, while commercial sponsorship was up half a million, to €4.8m, and contributions from the European Breeders’ Fund was up 7% to €1.71m.
Of the positive figures, HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: “Prize-money grew by 6.3% to €56.8m with a further 6.5% increase budgeted for 2017. It should be noted, however, that this will simply return total prize-money to 2008 levels, when 13 fewer fixtures were run.
“HRI remains committed to increasing prize-money and reducing administrative costs for owners and trainers in order to remain competitive with our European counterparts and to attract and retain racehorse owners.”
After a particularly pleasing end to 2016, highlighted by the increased crowds at Leopardstown’s four-day Christmas Festival, it was no surprise to learn attendance figures also went in the right direction.
The average was up 1%, to 3,692, while total attendances were up 3.3% to 1.32m.
But, in an ever-changing betting market, those figures did not have the desired knock-on effect for on-course bookmakers (betting ring and SP shops).
Their total turnover fell 5% to €75.9m, the worst-affected area being the betting ring, which was down 5.5%, while on-course SP shops suffered to the tune of 1.9%.
And neither was there good news for the on-course Tote, which dropped 4.5% to €12.7m, but that was readily offset by a huge increase in the off-course action going into the Irish pools. That figure increased by almost 30% to €78.7m. Off-course betting duty also saw a huge increase, to more than €50.7m.
Whilst acknowledging the positives, Kavanagh also revealed plans to tackle the negatives: “In 2016 Tote Ireland saw a sixth successive year of turnover growth. Revenue grew 22% from €79.3m to €96.8m. This growth was driven by betting into Irish pools from international markets and customers.
“On-course betting declined by 4.5%, reflecting the continuing challenge being experienced by all on-course operators. Significant investment is planned in 2017 to modernise on-course Tote services to provide improved experiences for customers.
“On-course bookmaker betting unfortunately continued to decline, although the figures towards the end of the year improved. Racecourses and bookmakers are working closer together to improve the way that this betting service is delivered, including, for example, the positioning of bookmakers in corporate facilities and other areas away from the traditional betting ring. HRI will continue to assist in any way it can and recently announced a reduction in the on-course bookmakers levy.”
Summarising a year in which sales at public auction also increased, and the reach of sales exports extended to 36 countries, Kavanagh said: “2016 was a very positive year for Irish racing and we are looking forward to building on this as we face the challenges and opportunities that are ahead of us in 2017.
“For the first time ever, Irish-trained horses won the ‘big five’ races in Britain — the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup, Grand National, Derby and Oaks, as well as numerous other Grade 1 races.
“We saw a record number of Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham and Royal Ascot and, in October, Aidan O’Brien completed an unprecedented clean sweep of the first three places in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“Off the track, significant developments included the conclusion of a long term (up to 2023) media rights deal for Irish racing, the granting of planning permission for the new Curragh development and the commitment by the government of a further €6m to the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund.”