Weather woe labelled cause of decline in crowds at race meetings

Ireland’s major racecourses endured contrasting fortunes in their attendance figures for 2015 due to the vagaries of the weather.

While meetings such as the Punchestown Festival were hit with heavy rain that saw crowds drop, the Curragh enjoyed a good year, with figures up by 6.5 per cent.

“We had a good year at the Curragh. Thankfully we didn’t have too much bad weather,” said general manager Paul Hensey.

“The Sunday of Irish Champions Weekend wasn’t great, but we had a good run with the weather overall, so much so that our attendances were up 6.5 per cent.

“We were delighted with our attendances and we had strong betting figures across the board as well. It was a good year all round for the Curragh.

“When you look at the figures that were released, some fixtures were lost and Festivals were hit with unkind weather, and that can have a big effect.”

Punchestown is trying to combat against the imponderable that is the weather by enticing people who book early with offers.

“We were unfortunate to be hit by very bad weather towards the end of the Festival last year,” said Punchestown racing manager Richie Galway.

“Saturday has recently been the best-attended day, with an attendance of up to 29,000, but we lost about 10,000 or 12,000 off that because of the very wet weather. What we are trying to do to minimise the risk is to focus on our pre-sales, tickets in advance, and put on facilities that will safeguard those, to some degree, from the weather.

“Pre-sales are improving, they are strong, and is a work in progress.

“We have seen a sizeable increase at the Festival meeting the last two years and are doing so again this year with numerous offers and incentives.

“We were very unlucky with the weather. National Hunt racegoers do not necessarily expect summer weather when they come racing, but we had an inch of rain on the final day of the Festival which just made it very difficult to convince people to come.

“We’d like to keep improving the pre-sale of tickets, but a nice week would be helpful also.”

The total number of racegoers in Ireland was down by 0.7 per cent from 1.29m to 1.28m in 2015, despite there being four extra fixtures, while the average attendance fell by 1.8 per cent from 3,704 to 3,636.

The very wet weather resulted in 10 meetings being rescheduled, as opposed to one in 2014, while attendances in the final month of the year was down almost 18,000 after the wettest December on record.

There was also a fall in the number of Irish horses in training in 2015.

However, it is far from gloom and doom.

Horse Racing Ireland is to increase prize-money by €3.1m this year from €53.4m to €56.7m while the minimum race value will rise by €1,000 to €9,000.

“We are building on our commitment to increase prize-money and to reduce administrative costs for owners and trainers,” said HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

“Competitive levels of prize-money will help us to attract and retain owners, which remains our top priority.

“The growth in commercial sponsorship shows that confidence in racing’s appeal for a large portion of the sporting public remains strong and we expect further gains in 2016.”

Other areas of the Irish racing, like bloodstock sales and the sales of Irish-foaled exported horses, showed growth.

Tote betting was up 28.7 per cent to €79.9m, despite the fact that on-course Tote betting was down 6.3 per cent to €13.3m, while on-course betting shops showed an increase of 9.3 per cent to €10.6m.


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