Monday, May 20, 2024

Horse Racing Ireland unveils its new strategic plan for 2024-28

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Horse Racing Ireland’s last five-year strategic plan preceded the first Covid pandemic lockdown by a couple of weeks so coincidence bettors might have winced on Tuesday when the sport’s ruling body unveiled its new version for 2024-28.

Martin Heydon, Minister of State for Agriculture, Food & Marine, helped launch the plan at Punchestown, where Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) confirmed its intention to have Ireland’s second all-weather track at its own Tipperary course “fully operational” by 2027.

That is five years after the original finishing date set out in HRI’s previous strategic document, large parts of which had to be shelved due to the pandemic.

Since then, planning issues have dogged the Tipperary project, with An Bord Pleanála granting permission for a synthetic surface under floodlights only in January. That was 12 months behind schedule.

“It’s much further out but the last plan was hit by Covid, and our priorities had to change. It’s also a very, very complex project in terms of the amount of earth that has to be moved. We’ve got planning permission, and we’ve the next stage of Government approval so now we just have to put into place what it might take timing wise because you have to do it at a certain period of the year in February, March,” said HRI’s chief executive Suzanne Eade on Tuesday.

Other targets under the new plan reflect its predecessor, with HRI announcing it is targeting €92.4 million of funding by 2028. HRI was allocated €76 million by the Government this year. In 2020 it aimed at State funding of €98 million by 2024.

It also wanted €90 in prize money by this year, but the latest plan outlines a target of €80 million by 2028. HRI is also aiming at 430 fixtures by then. A total of 395 meetings were scheduled for this year. It wants overall annual revenue to grow to €141.7 million in four years’ time.

Under the new plan HRI says it wants an annual welfare budget to increase by 70 per cent, while investment in integrity and welfare will be upped by €3.7 million. A campus development on the site of the old Racing Apprentice Centre in Kildare is also planned.

HRI has described changing public perceptions of the sport and urbanisation as threats to the sport, as is increasing negativity towards the gambling industry. Revenue streams tied up in Government support and media rights were labelled weaknesses.

Eade also said HRI is continuing to work with Government in looking for an exemption for specialist racing channels from proposed gambling legislation which prevents advertising between 5am and 9pm. Racecourse Media Group, which owns Racing TV, has said such a ban will make its business unviable, throwing up a scenario where Irish racing may not be available to view in Ireland.

“We are still working with RMG trying to find a solution. One of their solutions was a little bit expensive, which would require additional technology. It’s a little cost prohibitive, so we’re trying to work with them to try and come up with a solution,” Eade said.

“If you look at their advertising, one of the things we’ve looked at is how out of whack is their advertising with the legislation. We looked at it specifically in relation to Cheltenham, and it doesn’t seem that bad in terms of the legislation,” she added.

Commenting on the new strategic plan, HRI’s chairman Nicky Hartery said: “This document captures the ambition that HRI has for the continued development of the industry which generates Ireland’s fifth biggest agricultural export.

“An update to the to Deloitte report in 2023 showed incontrovertibly that the industry had navigated the turbulent Covid years and emerged bigger, more valuable and ever more focused on our social responsibility to our people, our horses and our environment.”

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