Ireland’s valuable bloodstock sales almost halved last year as the crippling effects of the recession hit the country’s renowned horse racing sector.
Horse Racing Ireland said the combination of the credit crunch and unprecedented bad summer weather drove earnings down for the first time in 15 years.
Sales at public auction were down €77m on 2007, marking the most dramatic decline.
All major auctioneers recorded a drop in bidding last year with Tattersalls Ireland sales director Simon Kerins saying turnover was significantly down on the previous 12 months.
“Horses are a luxury item and they are viewed as being a luxury item,” he said.
“For that reason people have stopped spending on them. The reality is, if people are suffering a downturn themselves, they are reluctant to put money into a luxury item.”
Bloodstock sales in Ireland were worth €176.5m in 2007, compared with €99.5m last year.
Horse Racing Ireland warned the industry’s poor performance last year meant job cuts were now a reality but insisted it was too difficult to estimate numbers.
Nick Nugent, sales and marketing director with Goffs, said the sector was particularly badly hit in the second half of the year.
“There was a downturn of about 40% in bloodstocks last year, generally in the northern hemisphere, the UK, United States,” Mr Nugent said.
“I think generally speaking people are being cautious or found it difficult to spend money last year.”
Attendances at racetracks dropped 9% last year from their record level of just over 1.5 million in 2007 to 1.39 million.
The drop-off in figures was blamed on the high number of race meetings cancelled because of bad weather between August and October.
Last year just 38,000 people attended race days at Tramore, Tralee, Galway and Listowel Festivals and the Irish Champion Stakes Day at Leopardstown, compared with 112,000 in 2007.
On-course betting was also down over 18% from €282.3m to €231m.
Bookmakers are still reeling from the Government’s decision to double the betting tax to 2% in the Budget, which also saw allocations for the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund slashed.
Brian Kavanagh, Horse Racing Ireland chief executive, warned of tough times ahead.
“With a range of cutbacks already in place for 2009 due to the reduction in our Government funding, owners, trainers, breeders, and all of the 16,500 people who rely on the industry for their employment, will need to brace themselves for the tough times that lie ahead,” he said.
Mr Nugent said it is hoped this year will bring an upturn in the beleaguered market.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling sunbeds or umbrellas, it’s all about hoping the climate in which you’re trying to sell your product is favourable, and last year it wasn’t,” he said.
“I’d like to feel that the good deal of the decline is behind us. There is a tempered optimism everywhere, but it is tempered.
“There is an element of caution about everything.”