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Speaking Notes for Mr. Simon Coveney, T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine at the Horse Racing Ireland Annual Awards.

  • Thank you for your kind invitation to attend here as Guest of Honour and to assist in the presentation of the awards. I am very pleased to join you as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on this auspicious occasion, the 2011 Horse Racing Ireland Awards. Now in their ninth year these annual awards are recognised as amongst the most prestigious horse racing awards in the Irish calendar.  Adjudicated by the Irish Racing media the awards recognise human and equine excellence in the sport of horse racing where Ireland continues to achieve great success in the elite international arena. I wish to commend and compliment Horse Racing Ireland’s Chairman, Denis Brosnan, his fellow Board Members, the CEO Brian Kavanagh and the staff of HRI and it's subsidiaries for their continuing efforts on behalf of the thoroughbred sector in the current very challenging economic climate. I can attest to the tenacity of HRI in pursuit of their mission "to develop and promote Ireland as a world centre of excellence for horse racing and breeding".

  • At the outset I would like to thank the members of media gathered here today for their expert coverage of Irish horseracing, you play a key role in this very important industry and I wish to acknowledge this and the very high standards of your output. The news that HRI have agreed a year long contract with RTE for the coverage of live racing over the coming year is also very welcome.

  • 2011 has turned out to be another year of outstanding success for the thoroughbred sector. The enduring strength and depth of the sport in Ireland is testament to the tireless efforts and skill of the remarkable men and women involved in the sector. The thoroughbred sector is one in which Ireland excels. This has been consistently proven down through the years in the marketplace and on the racetracks of the world.   Horseracing is one sport in which we can claim genuine world leadership and I am delighted that this sector comes within the remit of my Department. It is a great pleasure for me to meet the nominees for the 2011 Horse Racing Awards here today.  Given the wealth of talent in Ireland's racing community, it is indeed a great achievement to be nominated for an award.

  • At a time of economic adversity, the success of Irish breeders, trainers and jockeys shows what we are capable of in this country, which has such a rich equine history and heritage.  The Irish bloodstock industry is of enormous economic benefit to this country, providing 16,000 jobs, almost €1bn in economic output with exports worth some €147m to 36 countries in 2010.

  • The success enjoyed in 2011 created a ripple effect throughout the entire industry, enhancing the reputation of the industry and benefitting owners, breeders, jockeys and indeed all those involved in the industry either directly or indirectly. It is notable that Irish trainers Aidan O'Brien, Jim Bolger and Ger Lyons won 7 Group 1 races between them in Britain in 2011 including the Ascot Gold Cup, the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, the Dewhurst Stakes and the Cheveley Park Stakes.

  • Ireland also had yet another magnificent Cheltenham with a record breaking 13 Irish trained winners. There were also 15 Irish bred winners and 22 winners ridden by Irish jockeys at the famous four day meeting, while Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and Gigginstown House Stud also won the leading trainer, jockey and owners titles respectively. Willie Mullins continued his phenomenal strike rate by winning the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil in June with Thousand Stars, while at Punchestown he once again reigned supreme with Hurricane Fly putting up an immensely impressive performance to win the Rabobank Champion Hurdle and Quevega repeating her previous year's success in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, all ridden by Ruby Walsh. 

  • Irish horses filled the first four places in the Queen Mother champion Chase, our fifth win in this race since 2003.  This is a terrific record of achievement at the very highest level.
  • At home, Aidan O'Brien won his sixth consecutive Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby with Treasure Beach, while he also took the Abu Dhabi Irish 2000 Guineas with Roderic O'Connor and the Etihad Airways Irish 1000 Guineas with Misty For Me. Joseph (O'Brien), who had shared the Apprentice Title with Ben Curtis and Gary Carroll in 2010, was a runaway winner this time round with a record 57 winners. He became the youngest ever jockey to partner a winner at the prestigious Breeders Cup Meeting at Churchill Downs in America when he guided St Nicholas Abbey to a famous victory in the Breeders Cup Turf. This was the second leg of a big race double for his father Aidan as earlier in the day Wrote took the Breeders Cup Turf Juvenile under Ryan Moore.
  • The Aidan O'Brien trained Fame and Glory won the 2011 Ascot Gold Cup, this followed on from the success of Rite of Passage in 2010, thus ensuring that the Ascot Gold Cup was going back to Ireland for a sixth consecutive year after the remarkable Yeats had completed an historic four-timer in the race from 2006-2009.

  • Point to pointing in Ireland is an amateur sport but it has long been recognised as a rich source for potential top class racehorses. It is notable that six of the last 10 Cheltenham Gold Cup winners began their education in Irish point to points. Horses like Best Mate, War Of Attrition, Denman, Imperial Commander and Peddlers Cross are all shining examples of the potential stars that compete each season in Irish point to points.

  • Last month alone 123 races in Ireland and the UK were won by former Irish point to pointers. These winners won prize-money of over €900,000. The reputation of the Irish horse coupled with the horsemanship of Irish point to point trainers and jockeys has lead to the development of a significant niche market within the Irish bloodstock industry. These successes prove yet again that this country is a true leader in the equine world and shows the value of the pursuit of excellence.  As a country, it is fitting that we should take pride in our success and encouragement from our achievements. Our pre-eminence on the world stage was further underlined by the inclusion of the visit to the Irish National Stud in the Her Majesty The Queen's itinerary. Our international standing can only be further enhanced by this honour.
  • The Government is aware of the economic importance of the horse racing and breeding sector. It ticks all the boxes in terms of employment, foreign direct investment and is the type of export-orientated industry we need. Not alone that but it is very much part of our international reputation. It is simply part of what we are.
  • My overall objective, which is shared by the Government, is to ensure that the sectors world class standing and reputation is protected and maintained into the future. Already we have taken steps towards achieving that objective.
       
  • Firstly, as a clear signal of intent and despite our current very serious financial difficulties the Government last week retained the annual allocation to the Horse and Greyhound Fund.
  • Secondly, we recently agreed to proceed with legislation to amend the Betting Act 1931 to provide for the extension of the betting duty regime to remote betting. It is the Government’s intention that this legislation will be introduced in the first quarter of 2012.
     
  • Thirdly, I will shortly be commissioning an external review of the structures and legislation governing the industry. The 1994 Irish Horseracing Act and the 2001 Horse and Greyhound Racing Act achieved structural reform but I believe the reform now needs to be completed to ensure that governance and administrative procedures are modernised and fully effective in supporting a world-class industry. In taking this action I am acutely aware of the huge effort and commitment given by so many in bringing the industry to where it is today. But now we need to build on this and provide the framework that will facilitate all of us, concerned with the well being of the horse industry, to achieve further progress. The funding mechanism, which was established under the 2001 Act, has proven not to be satisfactory insofar as it required an increasing amount of Exchequer funding due to successive cuts in the betting duty and the migration of an increasing amount of betting activity to tax free platforms. As I said we are taking the first steps to rectify this but I believe the funding of the sector has to be placed on a more secure footing. I will be including this aspect under the review process but I should make clear I believe the sector not alone should have secure and adequate funding but it should also not be relying on Exchequer funding.
     
  • To allow for the completion of the review I have outlined I asked the current Chairman of HRI Denis Brosnan to continue in that role until the end of next November. I am delighted that he has agreed to do this. His experience and advice will be extremely valuable. It is vitally important for the sector that we all work together constructively in the months ahead.
  • But back to the focus of today. Even the briefest of overviews of 2011 leaves one in no doubt as to the phenomenal achievements of the Irish on the racetracks at home and abroad and highlights the scope and scale of those achievements on the Irish, European and international stage. The selection committee for these awards have truly had a very daunting task given the huge reservoir of human and equine talent that characterises Irish racing. The Irish Racing Media are best qualified to decide the ultimate destination of the awards and I don't envy them their task.
  • I wish to extend my sincere congratulations to the individual breeders, trainers, jockeys and stable staff and also to the various organisations that are so essential to this industry's success, including Horse Racing Ireland, Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, the Turf Club, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, the Irish Racehorse Owners Association, the Association of Irish Racecourse Owners, the Irish Jockeys Association, the Irish Equine Centre, the Horse Welfare Organisations, the Equine Education establishments, the bookmakers and the faithful punters and not forgetting the role of the equestrian press.

    In conclusion, I wish, once again, to thank Denis Brosnan, Chairman of HRI and Brian Kavanagh HRI CEO for inviting me here this afternoon and to wish each of the award winners my sincere congratulations on your tremendous achievements during the 2010/2011 season. May I take this occasion, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Government and my Department, to wish you all a Happy Christmas and may 2012 bring you even greater success.