Brexit’s Effect on Irish Horse Racing

Brexit’s Effect on Irish Horse Racing

Brexit is impacting many countries, and Ireland’s horse racing economy is bracing itself. Ireland, known for foaling and training horses, may soon see a tremendous impact on its economy. Without the mainland route through Europe for trade, there’s a very good chance that the Irish and UK trade market will falter. In fact, it’s expected to have a huge impact on Irish horse racing for this very reason.

A Huge Industry for Ireland

The horse racing and breeding industries are important to Ireland’s economy. In fact, it brings in roughly €1 billion every year, a small but substantial percentage of the country’s €189 billion economy, according to Horse Racing Ireland, which serves as the nation’s authority for thoroughbred racing. Henry Beeby, who is the chief executive of Goff’s, the number one bloodstock sales company in Ireland, says that taxes and tariffs on moving horses or other types of trade barriers could be detrimental to the country’s economy. Ireland is, after all, one of the world’s foremost export nations, and their current economy relies on the ability to export without such restrictions. Beeby also noted that 80% of the foals born in Ireland each year are exported directly to Britain.

The Impact on Horse Racing in the Rest of the World

While many of the horses trained in Ireland make their way to Britain, about 20% are exported to other countries, including places like the US and Canada. Both of these nations enjoy a very profitable horse racing industry, and there is some concern that the impact on the Irish could spill over into horse race betting in Canada and the US. Right now, the American horse betting industry contributes about $39 billion USD to the country’s economy and supports 1.4 million full-time jobs. The Canadian horse betting industry contributes roughly $19 billion to that country’s economy and supports roughly 145,000 jobs.

In Ireland, the impacts are even greater. Per the Horse Racing Ireland website, in 2016, the sale of bloodstock at auction climbed 7.7% to €164.2 million, and the export sales at public auction were up 1.9% from the previous year to €272.9 million. Another important statistic – Ireland exported Irish-foaled horses to 36 different countries in 2016 compared to just 33 countries in 2015. Despite Brexit, it seems that the Irish horse racing industry is continuing to grow for now.

The Impact on Trainers

Of course, the economy is likely to feel the impact of Brexit in different ways, too, if any sort of trade restriction arises. Many of the world’s most revered trainers hail from Ireland, which means some 10,000 horses move from Britain to Ireland and back again each year for training. Being close in proximity, and having simple access to many of the horse racing industry’s most popular events, is important to Ireland’s overall success. To put that into perspective, 19 of the 28 winners of the Cheltenham Festival, which takes place in March annually, were trained by the Irish. That includes Sizing John, which was this year’s Gold Cup winner.

Sizing John isn’t the only winner trained by the Irish; Rule The World, the 2016 Aintree Grand National winner who surpised the world with a win despite 33-1 odds, was also Irish-trained. One in three of all the Royal Ascot Festival horse race winners were foaled and trained in Ireland, as well.

One Industry Relies on the Other

Brian Kavanagh, the Horse Racing Ireland chief executive, noted that the foaling, training, and racing industries are all intertwined. Without one, the other fails – and that could spell trouble for the Irish. Kavanagh also noted that other countries and locations impacted by Brexit are in a position to adapt their products for new markets after Britain’s exit, but that’s simply not the case for Ireland. He said, “Royal Ascot, Cheltenham, Aintree, and Epsom cannot be
replicated in another country.”

The Fear of Madness

Another important consideration is the popularity of horse racing in Ireland, France, and Britain. Currently, there is an agreement that allows for a horse registered in one of these countries to move freely to and from the others, all without the need for inspections and veterinary examinations, which are both costly and time-consuming. This agreement pre-dates the European Union, and it includes areas like the border between the Irish Republic (which is part of the EU) and Northern Ireland, which is a British province seceding from the Union along with Britain. Nine out of 10 horses competing in races in these three countries come from Northern Ireland.

During Northern Ireland’s sectarian conflict, the border between these two lands was marked by checkpoints, which meant everything crossing the border had to be checked and processed. As a result, thoroughbred horses who were bred specifically for their flight response were kept in cages and boxes for hours on end. Jessica Harrington, who trains winning horses like Sizing John, noted it was “madness” as she spoke with Reuters about her concerns.

The Face of Things to Come

Harrington also said that many of the trainers on the British landbridge moved their horses to Europe’s mainland after driving through Britain, which was better for the horses because it kept them from having to endure a long trip by boat all the way from Ireland. She’s concerned that the government will require a sealed horse box, which would infringe upon other laws established to protect horses. By law, she says, horses can only travel for so many hours before they’re required to rest. Per Harrington, those in the Irish trainer’s association have discussed it, but so far, no one has been able to come up with a plan. She says at this point, it’s merely an effort to limit and perhaps mitigate damage to the industry.

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