18+ | Commercial Content | T&Cs apply | Wagering and T&Cs apply | Play Responsibly | Advertising Disclosure
Vincent Finegan

Vincent Finegan

Baptism of fire

Nina Carberry with husband Ted Walsh (left) and Helen McEntee and Simon HarrisNina Carberry with husband Ted Walsh (left) and Helen McEntee and Simon Harris
© Photo Healy Racing

The local council election results will have been well received by horse racing’s administrators with the main Government parties polling far better than expected.

Horse Racing Ireland’s recently published five-year plan for the industry is reliant on a 20% increase in Government funding over the lifetime of the plan in order to achieve its goals. A similar result in the upcoming Dáil elections would appear to give the racing industry’s administrators the best chance of attaining their long term objectives.

The European elections also had a racing flavour with former Amateur jockey Nina Carberry putting herself forward as a Fine Gael candidate in the Midlands-North-West constituency.

This particular constituency election had a bit of a Grand National vibe going on with a two-foot long ballot paper containing a record 27 hopefuls.

Nina Carberry comes from racing royalty and was a golden girl on the horse racing circuit, riding multiple Cheltenham Festival winners and became only the second woman to ride an Irish Grand National winner when partnering Organisedconfusion to victory in 2011 during a glittering career on the track.

Since retiring from the saddle at the end of the 2017/18 season Nina has achieved new-found fame in reality TV shows. In 2022 she was crowned champion of the Irish version of Dancing With The Stars and followed that with a coaching role on the popular TV show Ireland's Fittest Family. Nina subsequently secured a book deal to write a series of Children’s books about pony camps, two of which have already been published.

All in all Nina has done tremendously well since finishing her riding career, particularly so when I think back to how media shy she was in her racing heyday.

That said, I was most surprised when Fine Gael picked her to represent them in Europe. She had no background or experience in politics and it smacked of simply cashing in on her celebrity status.

Her brother-in-law Ruby Walsh and former colleague Rachael Blackmore both recorded videos in support of Nina in the run up to the election. In each case Nina’s hard-working ethic and honesty were cited as her main attributes. Not necessarily the first two traits that would spring to mind when recalling many of our country's political class where hard necks and thick skins are the most prized possessions.

It looks like it will be the middle of this week before Nina finally knows whether or not she has won a seat on the gravy train. This could well coincide with the airing of the Prime Time Investigates expose: Horses - Making A Killing.

The hour long documentary this Wednesday night promises to show the links between the racing and slaughter industries. The RTÉ team claim to have traced racehorses that competed in 3,000 races and won €1.5m in prize money and ended up in Ireland’s only licensed abattoir.

Nina Carberry could be in for a baptism of fire trying to defend horse racing on this topic on her first day as an elected representative.

Changing the subject, American trainer Wesley Ward spoke recently about his love affair with Royal Ascot, but how it doesn’t actually make financial sense to send runners over to Britain. According to Ward a maiden victory in the States is more lucrative than winning a top a two-year-old contest at the Royal meeting.

He talks about an average maiden race in America having a prize fund in excess of $100,000 (€92,000).

In Ireland we tend to benchmark our prize money against that of our nearest neighbour, the UK, and at the lowest level we are well ahead. But in international terms our prize money at the lowest levels is a long way behind other racing nations such as the US, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and France where anecdotal evidence would suggest a single victory in a season for even a low grade horse covers the owner’s expenses. In Ireland an owner would need at least two victories to have any hope of breaking even.

Our average prize money is also ahead of the UK per race. In 2022 the average prize money in Ireland was €26,000 per race compared to €22,000 in the UK. When you take into account owners' premiums in France (which are paid on top of prize money to owners of horses born and raised in France) Ireland lags well behind all the other major racing nations in this category.

In Japan the average prize money per race is a whopping €262,000.

Sticking with prize money, it is interesting to note the gender divide for the top level races. The Epsom Derby (£1,556,000/€1,827,000) for colts at the beginning of this month was worth almost three times as much as the Fillies’ Oaks (£550,00/€645,000) held the previous day.

In Ireland there is a similar disparity between the money on offer for the colts compared to the fillies for their equivalent races. The Irish Derby is worth €1,250,000 this year while the Irish Oaks is €500,000.

I wonder how this differential came about. Is it linked to betting turnover or media rights money or is it simply a legacy issue?

Whatever the reasons, it is very odd that the same gender gap doesn’t apply at all to colts and fillies when they are competing in the Guineas in Ireland or Britain. The 1000 Guineas and 2000 Guineas have exactly the same prize money. All four Guineas races run in Ireland and Britain this season were worth half a million.

Of course prize money is largely irrelevant at the top level. When you hear that the owners of a two-year-old filly that recently won a maiden at Naas have refused an offer of £760,000 to sell her before Royal Ascot, you realise how prize money is not a factor in these decisions. If she is successful in the Queen Mary next week she will recoup less than 10% of the money her owners turned down.