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  • Writer's pictureStephen O'Dwyer

Focusing on the Positives of Horse Racing: Why We Need to Celebrate the Industry

Horse racing has long been a popular sport in many countries, and Ireland is no exception. While recent controversies have brought negative attention to the industry, it's important to remember that horse racing also has many positives. Inspired by a recent tweet thread by Jack Cantillon and a positive soliloquy by Kevin Blake on the Betfair Weighed-In Podcast, this week's blog takes a step back to focus on the benefits of horse racing. From its economic impact to the thrills it brings its viewers, horse racing has much to offer, and we should celebrate these positives while also working to address the industry's challenges.


Forget the Numbers

Before looking at the numbers and economic impacts of the sport, it’s more important to look at the underlying reasons we all enjoy a particular sport, the emotional impact. Sports have a profound emotional impact on individuals and society as a whole. Whether as a participant or a spectator, sports can evoke a range of emotions, including joy, excitement, disappointment, and frustration. Sporting events have the power to bring people together and foster a sense of community and belonging. Athletes and coaches serve as role models and inspire fans to push their own boundaries and strive for excellence, with no better role model in recent years than Rachael Blackmore.


Rachael and Honeysuckle, Breaking Down Barriers

Rachael Blackmore is a true trailblazer in the world of horse racing. As the first female jockey to win both the Grand National and Gold Cup, her historic achievements have inspired a new generation of riders and broken down barriers in a sport where men and women compete on equal terms.


One of the horses that brought Rachael so much success is Honeysuckle, a mare with an impressive 17 wins to her name, including two Cheltenham Champion Hurdles, three Irish Champion Hurdles, and two Punchestown Champion Hurdles, all top races against male horses. Along with Rachael, the racing world is equally proud of Honeysuckle's exploits, and she will undoubtedly go down in the history books alongside other female racing greats like Dawn Run, Annie Power, and Quevega.


For young girls who dream of competing in sports, Rachael Blackmore's story is a powerful reminder that anything is possible with hard work and determination. All sports enthusiasts should celebrate her achievements so far, and we look forward to seeing her continue to make history in the years to come




University Students

It's easy to think of horse racing as an elitist sport reserved for the wealthy or older generations. However, students represent not only future fans but also future owners and workers in the industry. In recent years, efforts in universities around Europe have been made to counter this view.


As an alumni, I knew that the UCD Horse Racing Society was one such organization that promotes horse racing among students. What I didn’t know is that it is part of a network of similar societies across Europe, known as the European Student Horseracing Federation. This federation recently hosted a Student Derby where student jockeys from eight different countries came to run over the infamous 1m 4f Derby course at the Curragh, broadcast live on Racing TV.


With a whopping 1000 students in attendance on a cold late October weekday, it's clear that the future of horse racing is not all doom and gloom. This event along with other days in Leopardstown, Dundalk, Limerick, Tramore etc highlights the passion and enthusiasm that young people have for horse racing, and it's encouraging to see that they are actively involved in the sport. It's a positive sign for the future of the industry, and we can't wait to see what the next generation of racing enthusiasts will achieve.



Outreach

Apart from the inspiring individual stories and positive signs for the future of horse racing, there are also numerous initiatives within the industry aimed at promoting animal welfare, supporting local communities, and fostering inclusivity and diversity. These initiatives include various charities such as Treo Eile, which provides retired racehorses with second careers, as well as inclusivity schemes. There are too many initiatives to list in this short post, but you can visit https://www.hri.ie/sustainability/our-people/ to learn more. It's encouraging to see the industry taking steps towards sustainability and social responsibility, and these initiatives show that horse racing can have a positive impact beyond the track.


While I could spend days discussing the emotional impact that horse racing has on its fans, staff, and stakeholders, it's important to remember that emotional impacts can be subjective. At TrojanTrack, we prefer to focus on objective facts, so let's take a look at some data and let you, the reader, decide whether horse racing is worth celebrating.


Money Talks

Horse racing is a sport that requires a significant amount of funding to cover various expenses such as horse care, stable staff salaries, veterinary bills, and prize money. In 2023, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) received government funding of €72.8 million. While some people may view this as money going into the pockets of rich horse owners, it's important to understand where this money actually goes.


A breakdown of HRI's spending reveals that a majority proportion goes towards prize money, which amounts to €68.6 million. However, we need to look beyond this figure to see the wider economic impacts that this money brings. Approximately 70% of horses competing in horse racing receive some prize money, which is important to incentivise owners to invest in the breeding and racing of horses. This, in turn, creates jobs in the rural communities where the industry thrives.


In fact, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine estimated that the horse racing industry in Ireland employs a total of 29,000 people both directly and indirectly. These jobs are crucial for the growth and sustainability of rural communities, providing a vital source of income for towns and villages.



A 2017 study conducted by Deloitte on behalf of Horse Racing Ireland revealed that the thoroughbred industry in Ireland had an economic impact of €1.84 billion. This report makes it clear that the government's investment in the Irish horse racing industry is justified, creating a 3000% return on investment while simultaneously supporting the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. I urge readers to take a look at the Deloitte report and appreciate why Ireland is regarded as the best place in the world for breeding and raising thoroughbreds. It is certainly something that we should all be immensely proud of.


As Kevin Blake said in a 2021 article, "the economic case in favour of the government's investment in the Irish horse racing industry couldn’t be clearer." The report is a perfect counter to the naysayers of the funding of the industry.


So, while horse racing may be seen as a money-orientated sport, it's clear that the money invested into the industry has far-reaching and positive economic impacts. By supporting initiatives such as prize money distribution, equine welfare, education and training, and ownership, the industry is able to continue creating jobs and supporting rural communities throughout Ireland.



An Eye on Welfare

As the world becomes increasingly aware of animal welfare issues, the horse racing industry has stepped up to the plate in recent years. Although there is still work to be done, it's important to recognize the progress being made towards a more humane sport. Despite the negative press that can overshadow the positive stories, it's crucial to highlight the strides being taken towards better animal care. At TrojanTrack, we believe in celebrating every improvement and pushing for even more advancements in horse racing welfare. After all, it's our responsibility to ensure the animals involved in the sport are treated with the utmost care and respect.


In recent years, there have been significant efforts to increase welfare standards within the horse racing industry. In 2019, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) announced a new welfare strategy aimed at enhancing the welfare of racehorses and promoting a culture of care within the industry. This included the creation of a new Animal Welfare Committee and the appointment of a dedicated Head of Welfare.


Since then, there have been several initiatives introduced to improve horse welfare, including a new licensing system for trainers and an enhanced equine traceability system. HRI has also invested in research to better understand the health and welfare of racehorses, including a study on the risk factors for fractures in thoroughbred racehorses.


In addition to these initiatives, there has been increased scrutiny on the use of medication and therapeutic treatments in horse racing. The use of race-day medication, such as Lasix, has been banned in many countries, and there has been a push for stricter regulations around the use of other medications and treatments.


Innovation has been a key factor in the recent improvement of horse welfare in the racing industry. With the emergence of Irish-based traceability and monitoring companies like EquiTrace and Equine MediRecord, tracking and monitoring of horses has become much easier. Additionally, companies such as Arioneo and Irish-based Equimetrics are focusing on the health of the animals, using advanced technology to measure respiratory rate, stride length, heart rate, and even perspiration to better understand the health of the horses in training. These innovations have been instrumental in improving the welfare of horses and have helped to mitigate negative press associated with the industry. Without these companies providing innovative solutions, progress would stall and the industry would be at risk of falling behind in terms of animal welfare.




At TrojanTrack, we believe that technology can play a crucial role in advancing the welfare of horses in racing. By providing innovative tools to trainers, owners, and veterinary professionals, we can ensure that the animals are given the best care possible. With our cutting-edge tracking system, we are confident that we can make a meaningful impact on the industry and help it continue on the path of progress. We look forward to contributing to the future of horse racing and making it a more sustainable and responsible sport.


Moving Beyond Controversy and Embracing the Sport's Impact and Progress


Horse racing has long been a sport of excitement, skill, and athleticism, and it continues to provide entertainment for millions of people around the world. Despite the negative press that surrounds the industry, it's important to focus on the positives and celebrate the incredible achievements of horses, jockeys, and trainers alike.


Ted Walsh, a prominent figure in the racing industry, once famously said, "If you don't like racing, go and watch Peppa Pig. Racing is what it is. It's a wonderful sport, horses get killed, jockeys get injured, no one knows it better than me watching Ruby. I got injured myself. It's part of the game. That's what the sport is. Don't be pampering the fellas that want to stop it altogether. They won't be happy until there's no racing." While Walsh's words may seem harsh, they highlight the reality of the industry and the need to celebrate the sport for what it is.


Rather than focusing on the negative press, we should instead look at what racing means to its current and future fans. The 1000 students on Student Derby day, for example, likely wouldn't be bothered if a jockey's arm came above shoulder height when using the whip. Instead, they come to experience the thrill of the race and the spectacle of the event. And how many of them know about the economic impact that racing has on Ireland's rural communities or the strides taken around welfare in the industry?


There are countless other positive aspects of the horse racing industry that could be discussed at length, from the community and camaraderie among fans and participants to the incredible feats of athleticism and skill displayed by both horse and rider. However, to cover them all would make this blog far too long.


These are the stories that need to be celebrated, not just within industry circles but to a wider audience. Horse racing is more than just a sport – it's an industry that provides jobs and economic opportunities, a tradition that dates back centuries, and an exciting spectacle that brings people together. By focusing on the positives and sharing these stories, we can ensure that horse racing continues to thrive for generations to come.



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