Attendance at Irish racecourses reached an all-time record of 1.43 million and the total value of bloodstock sales at public auction grew 28.7% to €145.6 million in 2005, according to statistics released by Horse Racing Ireland.Total on-course betting was up 1.6% to €236.7 million. The Tote grew 3.8% to €49.3 million which includes a continuing trend in betting into overseas Tote pools. Bookmaker betting on-course, which was down €6.6 million at the half-year stage, also gained from the buoyancy in the second half of the year, showing growth of €1.6 million by year's end.Prize money was broadly the same as 2004 at €52.3 million. Owners' contributions to the prize fund were reduced to 26% of the total, very close to HRI's strategic plan objective of 25%. Race sponsorship retained its positive growth pattern of recent years and in 2005 almost two thirds of all races were sponsored, with overall sponsorship increasing 4% to €7.9 million. Within that figure, commercial sponsorship grew 4.4% to €5.6 million and European Breeders Fund contributions 13.4% to €1.9 million.The Festival meetings at Punchestown, the Curragh, Galway, Listowel and Leopardstown were the star performers, with a buoyant second half of the year contributing most of the growth of almost 44,000 racegoers on the 2004 figures. The total number of fixtures (including Northern Ireland) was 313 compared to 305 last year. In the Republic of Ireland there were 291 fixtures against 281 in 2004. Despite the increased fixtures the average attendance per meeting remained strong at 4,914.New owners' registrations declined slightly to 969 from the record of 1,000 registrations in 2004, while the total value of bloodstock sales at public auction grew 28.7% to €145.6 million, helped considerably by the transformation of the Goffs Orby yearling sale.Commenting on the figures, HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh said:
"2005 was probably the most successful year ever for Irish racing. Irish trained horses won over €11 million in prize money overseas. Nine winners at Cheltenham and eight at Aintree surpassed our most optimistic expectations...The increase in the value of horse sales at public auction from €113 million to almost €146 million is very encouraging and a real indicator of the strong demand for bloodstock. As the Indecon report found, the racing and bloodstock industry is a major contributor to the economy generating employment in excess of 16,500 persons. The breeding sector alone contributes €330 million to the economy and accounts for more than 10% of all livestock output."The record attendance figure is particularly satisfying as this is a key sign of the health of racing as a sport," Kavanagh continued. "It was achieved despite a difficult start to the year when January and February attendance fell victim to extreme weather...With the availability of live TV pictures, and the variety of options now on offer in a fiercely competitive betting market, racecourses are responding well to the challenge provided by the changing marketplace."Looking forward to 2006, Kavanagh stated: "The underlying fundamentals of the industry are strong and 2006 will see much progress on improving racecourse facilities...Prize money will increase from €52.3 million to €56 million in 2006 with the policy of encouraging better horses in training continuing. The level of balloting rose further in 2005 and while undoubtedly it is a source of much frustration, it will not be possible to meet the needs of every horse within the current fixture list. The priority will be to continue to ensure that horses are given a fair chance to show their ability and to work their way through the system. 2005 was also a year of dramatic change for the taxation structures of the industry with the formal announcement of the end of the stallion taxation exemption and the reduction of betting duty from 2% to 1% (to be absorbed by the betting industry). The security of funding provided by the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund in recent years has allowed the industry engage in long-term strategic planning and in this regard Horse Racing Ireland welcomes the undertaking by the Minister for Finance in the Budget to examine the potential for widening the tax base on which this 1% will apply."Horse Racing Ireland owns and operates a number of racecourses and through its subsidiary, Tote Ireland, runs a totalizator at all Irish racecourses, a credit betting service, both on and off-course.Horse Racing Ireland is responsible for the promotion of the Irish thoroughbred horse through its division Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Limited. Horse Racing Ireland is financed by a direct grant from the government and profits from the Tote and funding from the on-course and off-course bookmakers.