Breeders urged to seek recall of betting levy
THOROUGHBRED breeders have been urged to canvass their political representatives for the reintroduc tion of a 2.5pc off-course betting levy in this year's budget in an effort to revive the country's struggling racing and breeding industries.
Ireland currently has 30pc fewer breeders, 30pc fewer thoroughbred mares and 44pc fewer stallions than in 1998 according to industry consultant Elizabeth Headon, addressing the recent Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association national conference in the Heritage Hotel, Killenard, Co Laois.
Even more concerning than the drop in the number of stallions is the decline in quality, with Ireland now only standing three of Europe's top stallions (by fee) compared to seven a decade ago. Of the top six, only one of those is now in Ireland.
Ms Headon described how the erosion of the off-course betting duty from 10pc down to 1pc over the past 15 years means that Ireland now has the lowest betting duty in the world.
When Horseracing Ireland was set up, it was expected that it would funded by this levy but this is no longer adequate and the sector is now reliant on the national exchequer, which has cut its support by 29pc since 2008.
The Government's current contribution is the equivalent of 1.6pc of betting turnover. This compares to 26pc in Argentina, 14pc in Italy and 10pc in France. She pointed out Ireland would still be one of the lowest in the world even at 2.5pc betting duty.
To facilitate collection of the levy, she suggested that it would be put back on the punter.
Prize money in France covers over half the owner's keep and training expenses, whereas the figure in Ireland is only 25pc. Ireland has 21pc less net prize money per individual runner than in Britain.
The session was al s o addressed by one of the coun- try's leading breeders and trainers, Jim Bolger. He said there was an obvious connection between the drop in the prize money and the similar decline in broodmare numbers.
“Prize money is the life blood of racing,” he said.
“If we want to maintain the sector's 20,000 jobs, which are mainly in rural Ireland, the Government needs to get its act together.
“We urgently need a return to the level of support we had in 2007 and we need not be embarrassed in asking for it. We have a very good reputation, but we need to keep our racing on the top stage in the world.”
Ms Headon agreed that breeders should push f or support for the sector that gave such a high return on investment. “The cost of a job created in this sector is just €3,214 compared to €12,597 for Enterprise Ireland and €13,475 for the IDA,” she claimed.
Joe Foley, owner of Ballyhane Stud in Carlow, pointed out that the best stallions add huge value to the country. “If mares don't come here to get covered, there is a decline not just in nominations, but also in terms of transport, vet, boarding and perhaps, further down the line, in the sales ring,” he said.
“The loss of the stallion tax exemption in 2008 was a major blow,” he added. He emphasised the need to attrac t new breeders into the sector, especially young breeders and he proposed the extension into the sector of stock allowances and other types of incentives which exist in the livestock sector.
The conference was also addressed by champion trainer Willie Mullins, who said the industry needs a more secure source of funding.
With the Cheltenham Festival looming, his early tip for a Yankee was Champagne Fever, Hurricane Fly, Briar Hill and Wicklow Brave in the Supreme Novices.