Changes Must Come in Racing


By Roderic More O’Ferrall in 1944

The Irish Derby at the Curragh

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MANY people wonder whether bloodstock values will continue to rise when the war is over, or for how long they are likely to stay high. What will be the conditions of racing all over the world, and will any or many of the numerous changes advocated by the Irish Racing Commission and the Racing Reorganisation Committee, in Ireland and Great Britain respectively, be put into practice?

What we are most concerned with is what changes will come in Ireland. The present era of racing in Ireland is blissfully happy. There has been little more than half the pre-war number of days’ racing, but with transport so difficult this has been more a blessing than a curse as not many persons could get to more days’ racing conveniently. Then there are generally seven races per day – a good idea; eight might even be better – which offsets somewhat the loss of the extra days. There are plenty of horses in the country. One thousand thoroughbreds are foaled in Ireland every year, and except for a trickling to the Iberian Peninsula, virtually no exports have been possible from Ireland since 1941. The public, unable to leave the country, and no longer able to motor in it, find racing on a Saturday afternoon pleasant relaxation, and are able to get there, in the metropolitan area at least (where most of the racing is centralised), by train, bus, horse-drawn vehicle, or push-bike. So with runners numerous and racing interesting, the public turns out in numbers to watch it, and to the uninitiated everything in the garden is lovely.

Solution of the Problem

When the war is over, a different aspect may arise. The public may be able to go abroad again, and motoring will be restored. What is certain is that Irish horses will go abroad, and in large numbers. With the whole of the outside world short of horses, there will be an unprecedented demand for Irish horses, and I visualise that Irish training stables will be swept bare. Flat racers will be bought to go everywhere: jumpers, primarily to Great Britain. Brood mares will be bought up too, but I do not expect to see the Irish breeder sell his last mare. Nor can Irish owners be blamed if they sell. They have had a hard time. What is more, Irish owners have always been accustomed to sell in the past. There has never been sufficient monetary inducement in Irish racing to stay that desire.

If this comes to pass, what will happen to Irish racing? Many of the horses will have gone. Those which remain will provide small entry fees for executives, poor racing for the public, so the public may not go racing.

With reduced entry fees, and with a smaller public, Irish racecourse companies will find themselves in a very poor way indeed.

The answer to this problem is quite simple – it is money.

With stakes much larger and costs much less, and 1945 (instead of 1845) accommodation for the public, racing can flourish as it never has before, and in its turn prove of vital support to the horse-breeding industry of Ireland – a country better equipped by nature than any other in the world for the production of horses. Strong racing in Ireland must give added strength to the horse-breeding industry behind it. How often have we not seen horses sold out of Ireland for £300 or £400, and still cheap at double those figures in foreign countries, simply because the financial side of racing (i.e. the betting side) in those countries is tapped to produce stakes for racing, while ours is not.

The money in racing is in the betting turnover, as it always has been, and as it always will be. It is estimated that £3,500,000 was betted on Irish racecourses in 1944, of which sum approximately £500,000 passed through the Totalisator. This is quite apart from the money spent in the betting offices in Dublin and elsewhere which must amount to a considerable sum.

Complete Transformation Envisaged

If this huge sum were tapped to produce revenue for racing the change-over in the conditions of Irish racing from poverty to plenty would effect a positive transformation. It would mean high stakes, low costs for the owner; the old owner able to remain in the game, the new encouraged to join; proper salaries for highly competent and conscientious officials: greater reward to jockeys, the best of whom after a lifetime riding are highly-skilled artisans, and deserve far more than they can have now: and trainers would have no worries over their accounts!

As to the public, it would have accommodation such as is undreamed of in Ireland, but which (except in Great Britain) exists in every other country in the world – that is, undreamed of except by a few, as somehow or other so many people seem to think the good things in the outside world never are applicable to Ireland.

And with the financial growth of Irish racing, the value of the horse-breeding industry in Ireland would grow also, and the power of Irish breeders would become immeasurably greater.

The Totalisator form of betting is the solution of the post-war problem facing Irish racing: the only means by which essential revenue can be collected to help racing.

It has been applied universally (except in Great Britain) and has been found to provide the answer to the money problem in every country.

The Totalisator arrived in Ireland in 1930. It arrived almost unheralded, almost unwanted, an interloper into racing, like the uninvited guest at a party. The Tote crept into a back seat in the pit. Nobody paid much attention, nor did even its sponsors at that time all take much interest. The Tote was faced with a large initial building debt, but thanks to the very great commonsense of its business and hard-working board of honorary directors, it has survived and prospered. To-day the Tote has reached the dress circle. Not the very best seat in the dress circle, of course, but quite a comfortable place. But why, oh! why was it not invited to the stalls, the boxes, or even on the stage, right at the beginning? It is bound to end up there.

The reason is, vested interests. The bookmaker pleads for the unborn bookmaker. The backer, because he may have no stake in the fundamental businesses of horse-breeding and racehorse ownership, defends a method of betting to which he is more accustomed or, on selfish personal grounds, prefers.

The racecourse shareholders cry out too;  it is more demonstrative to cry out than to think. But, as everybody knows, even if private racecourse companies must be appropriated, vested interests of all concerned must, and would be, adequately compensated.

Changes will come: to the chagrin of those who fail to read the writing on the wall: because human beings are not fools forever, and the gain to the greatest number is more important than preservation of the vested interests of the few. And those of us who view the post-war period of racing in Ireland with some concern, hope that the time, brains, and money put into the Irish Racing Commission of 1942 and earlier, into the Government Commission of 1935, will not prove so much time lost, so much thought and expense wasted.

A critical period is close at hand and financial reorganisation is the best means of transforming a possible disaster into a new era of prosperity.

Irish Cambridgeshire at the Curragh
The Irish Derby at the Curragh

The Irish Cesarewitch
The Irish Cesarewitch

High-Class Irish T.Y.O winner, Overboard
High Class Irish T. Y. O winner, Overboard

View of the parade ring at Punchestown
The view of the parade ring at Punchestown

Leopardstown Irish Golden Jubilee Hurdle Handicap
Leopardstown Irish Golden Jubilee Hurdle Handicap

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