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Sun 29 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Racing the downturn

Find out how Ireland’s bloodstock market is losing the race against the recession.

Racing the downturn
Sales of Irish thoroughbreds have dropped by a reported 65 percent during the past two years.
Racing the downturn

Two weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc, Irish racehorse auctioneer Goffs held its annual ‘Million' sale. It turned out to be the last.

"It wasn't a great day to be trying to sell something like a racehorse," CEO Henry Beeby said in a telephone interview from Goffs in Kill, west of Dublin.

"Race horses are a luxury item paid for with disposable income."

The number of Irish horses sold has dropped by 65 percent during the past two years and stud fees sank "dramatically," the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association said in a November 4 report.

Retiring champion racehorse Sea the Stars, this month named Horse of the Year at the Cartier Racing Awards, will earn about a quarter less for every mare he impregnates than he would have done at the peak, according to his trainer.

As economies worldwide limp out of recession, the bloodstock industry in Ireland may take three years to recover from the financial crisis, according to Julie Lynch, stallion nominations manager at the Irish National Stud.

The horseracing and breeding industry is worth more than $1.6bn a year to the economy, with Ireland producing 42 percent of all thoroughbred foals in Europe, according to the breeders' association.

Irish gross domestic product is forecast by the state to shrink 7.5 percent this year after the decline of the property market, which helped to fuel wealth over the past decade.

"A huge amount of our clients would have been people who got in on the Celtic Tiger boom," said Lynch. "People in IT and property developers were among the buyers."

Sea the Stars last month became the first horse to win the 2000 Guineas, English Derby and Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe in one season. Each so-called cover, or mare he puts in foal, will cost the owners $127,177, compared with between $149,620 and $179,500 had he retired earlier, trainer John Oxx said.

"It's not the best time to be retiring the best horse in the world to stud," said Oxx.

The Goffs ‘Million Sale' started in 2005 and horses bought at the auction were entitled to compete for a top prize of €1m ($1.5m) at the following year's ‘Million Race,' held to coincide with the auction.

Sales at the September 2008 auction following Lehman's filing for bankruptcy plunged 40 percent to $48.5m from a record a year earlier, while the average price of a horse declined by more than a third to  $108,702.

Goffs, whose ‘Million' event boasted sponsorship by luxury goods firm Hermes International SCA, had a loss of $4.6m for the year to March 31.

Goffs, partly owned by the Aga Khan, has dropped the race because such "marketing incentives are no longer prudent," chairman Eimear Mulhern said in the company's annual report.The event, second in size to the Irish Derby with more than 10,000 spectators, included a $29,920 prize for the ‘most stylish lady'.

The sale of horses will continue under a different name, Goffs said.

Irish thoroughbred sales totalled $168m in 2002 and peaked at  $286m in 2006, before almost halving to $149m in 2008, County Kildare-based Irish Thoroughbred Marketing said on its website.

The Irish National Stud, like other breeders, has responded to the economy by cutting fees by as much as 50 percent to attract clients, Lynch said in an interview at the 850-acre stud in Tully, 50km west of Dublin.

The seven stallions housed at the stud's stables include Invincible Spirit, with a $60m value and whose fee per cover has dropped to $67,000 from $112,215 at the peak.

Though the elite market has been affected by the global downturn, the lower end of the industry has felt the biggest impact, according to Lynch.

Sea the Stars "should still fare quite well," Oxx said. "It's the middle to the lower end that's most affected in a recession. There's always a market for the crème de la crème."

Breeders from across Ireland bring their horses to sales held by Goffs, which was founded in 1866.

The company holds eight bloodstock sales a year at its complex in Kill, and also holds sales at Kempton Racecourse, near London, and Dundalk Racecourse in Ireland.

"Historically the bloodstock industry rises and falls with the economy," said Beeby, who became CEO of Goffs in 2007 when it merged with Doncaster Bloodstock Sales. "Things fell dramatically last year."

This article is courtesy of Bloomberg.

King of the turf

Dubbed the man who changed the face of British racing, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum boasts a long, shared history with the sport. The Ruler of Dubai is thought to be the single, largest investor in British racing, with 11,000 acres of land in Newmarket, at the heart of the industry, and a string of multimillion dollar horses.

Darley, Sheikh Mohammed's umbrella organisation in Newmarket, is thought to employ some 375 permanent staff. His racing stable Godolphin, which is also located in the town, reportedly employs in excess of 300 staff.

Each of the Sheikh's more than 700 racehorses is reported to cost around $33,000 a year in training fees.

Racing is a family concern. Sheikh Mohammed's brother, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, owns the 2,000-acre Nunnery Stud in Norfolk, England alongside a number of other properties in the US and Ireland. Sheikh Mohammed is Ireland's largest, single landowner, with more 4,000 acres of pasture in his portfolio.

Closer to home, Dubai is host to the annual International Racing Carnival, which includes the world's richest horse race, the prestigious Dubai World Cup.

Next year, the meet will be staged at Meydan Racecourse - a $200m complex that has been built from scratch in less than 26 months.

The 76 million sq ft project includes a hotel, a museum, ten restaurants, a marina, an IMAX theater, and space to park more than 10,000 cars. The ambitious project was unveiled on the eve of the 2007 Dubai World Cup, and work began on the site less than twelve hours after that night's final race.

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