Ruby Walsh: Irish racecourses face huge battle to survive racing behind closed doors

Many Irish tracks will struggle the longer racing is behind closed doors.

Ruby Walsh Bellshill horse

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Irish Racing will kick off with a fortnight of Flat racing on June 08, but it’s great that National Hunt racing will resume on June 22nd.

I don’t think you could have left jumps racing go without a fixture any longer than that, with so many people working in the National Hunt industry.

It’s stating the obvious – but running a race meeting costs money. To have the track in the right condition, to open up all the facilities, just for them to function basically is an expense.

Racecourses have lost a lot of fixture already, which means they’ll have lost a lot of revenue. Things like sponsorship, hospitality, gate receipts and media rights income have fallen by the wayside for some tracks.

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Obviously, racing is going to be behind closed doors for a considerable period of time. We know there is a ban on mass gatherings in Ireland until the end of August at least – and it could be even longer than that.

Come July, I can see a lot more of a mixture between Flat and National Hunt meetings and I can see a lot more double meetings too. However, I think HRI will have to look economically at the race programme and fixtures from every racecourse’s point of view.

I don’t know which ones they are but some racecourses will find it difficult going forward. In Ireland,  we probably have a lot of racecourses per capita and each one serves its own purpose in what it does for the rural community.

However, I’m not sure financially that they’ll all be able to be saved. I’d hate to see it happening but the reality could be that a racecourse or two will go by the wayside.

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Betting shops are closed at the moment and a good portion of the media rights money comes from the off-course betting shops. That model will have to be looked at and the ‘streaming’ of races may have to form part of the equation in future.

The price people pay for streaming live racing will have to be factored in to help racecourses financially.

Racecourses are going to come under a lot of financial pressure to provide race meetings. The racecourses that have consistently tried to attract big attendances and have consistently built on that, they might have a bigger buffer with the media rights money that they have received so far.

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Some of the tracks that didn’t chase attendances and that were happy to rely on the media income, they could come under pressure. I would imagine most shareholders in small racecourses are shareholders for their love of horse racing. I can’t imagine that many of those racecourses are run as profitable businesses and most of them are run to reinvest in their facilities and to maintain the place.

So those racecourses that have spent their income, could be in trouble. With no gate receipts and a definite reduction in media rights money, some racecourses are going to struggle.

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You also have to factor in that there is going to be a huge cost on water. We’ve all said it that the weather has been so kind to us during this lockdown but it hasn’t been kind to racecourses.

They will need water for grass growth and the safeness of ground. That all costs money, and staff have to be paid as well, so there will be a big expense there.

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