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Vincent Finegan

Vincent Finegan

British racing on the front foot with horsepwr website

Seamie Heffernan and Dallas Star winning the Ballysax Stakes at LeopardstownSeamie Heffernan and Dallas Star winning the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown
© Photo Healy Racing

Last week British horse racing launched an information portal to present the facts about the sport. Everything from horse fatalities, to doping and whip offences are covered in a clear and concise manner.

British racing undertook this endeavour as a direct response to the publicity gained by Animal Rising protests this time last year and it is refreshing to see an end product that didn’t shy away from some of the most contentious elements of the game.

It was also a delight to see that they didn’t engage in massaging the numbers to make the economic impact of the industry appear greater than it actually is. There are no “estimated full-time equivalent (FTE) individuals” included in the numbers that we might get in an Irish version.

The horsepwr.co.uk site simply states that there are c.540 trainers registered in Britain with a staff of c.8,000 people.

In the most recent Deloitte commissioned report (2022) into the Irish breeding and racing industry a similar figure of 9,400 people directly employed in the industry balloons into a headline grabbing figure of 30,350 FTE staff.

The use of these statistical modelling tools to distort plain facts undermines the overall message and while British horse racing’s new website has steered clear of this tactic in the main, it does, however, use similar methodology to mask the truth about horse fatalities.

In 2023 a total of 18,630 horses raced in Britain and 158 of them suffered fatal injuries as a direct result of racing. This is a fatal injury rate of 0.85%, or in other words 1 in every 118 horses that raced in Britain died. But according to the horsepwr website the fatal injury rate is only 0.18% which would represent just 1 in every 555 horses.

The reason for the disparity between the two figures is because the industry takes into account that each horse runs an average of 4.7 times in a year, so the fatal injury rate published is per runner and not directly equatable to the number of horses.

If you take Flat racing data out of the equation, it turns out that in the National Hunt side of the sport the fatality rate increases. In 2023, 1 in every 70 horses that raced over jumps suffered a fatal injury during the year.

One aspect of the British horse racing industry that surprised me when looking at the published data is how reliant it is on Irish bred horses. Britain produces 4,500 foals annually, but imports an additional 6,000 foals from Ireland.

Another aspect of the breeding industry which I was unaware of is that 31% of horses bred for racing will never make it to a licensed trainer (based on a 2015 study). When you see how poor some of the horses are that actually make it onto the track, you’d have to wonder what the others were like and where they ended up.

The most surprising facts for me are in relation to the number of ex-racehorses in Britain. Considering 10,500 foals enter the system each year and horses live on average for 25 years, I had presumed that the numbers of former racehorses in Britain would be well in excess of 100,000 at any one time, but according to these published facts there is a population of just 33,600 such animals.

Presuming this population of 33,600 former racehorses is accurate, it is most encouraging to learn that 80% of them are “active and identifiable” in other pursuits such as dressage, eventing, show jumping, polo and point to points.

Overall, publishing these facts and figures about the sport has to be seen as a positive step. Arming supporters of racing with this information can’t do any harm.

The problem of course with modern society is that one sound bite on Social Media from a high ranking influencer can resonate around the globe in an instant and if that happens to be an ill-informed tirade against horse racing, no amount of facts or figures will undo the damage.

Changing the subject, the weather is causing havoc at the moment with daily cancellations of meeting both here and in Britain, so it was nice to see Leopardstown get the green light to race on Sunday.

It would be foolish to put much stead into these early season results considering how testing the ground was, but there was still plenty to whet the appetite for the months ahead. It was particularly interesting to see Seamie Heffernan complete a double on the card, including a 50/1 shock winner in the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes.

His recent departure from Ballydoyle after 28 years is a real head scratcher. Why would anyone walk away from one of the best jobs in the sport? Seamie has said publicly that he felt the need for a change, opting for “life in the fast lane” as a freelance jockey and both himself and Aidan O’Brien have stressed that there was no falling out. That said, it was interesting that Aidan chose to put up riders attached to his sons’ yards at the weekend rather than employ the services of the now freelance Heffernan.

It will hardly have been lost on the pair that Heffernan’s two winners at Leopardstown were in races where O’Brien saddled the odds-on favourites.