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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 16 December, 2018
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'90% of trainers and staff are broke' - Robbie McNamara says horse racing needs to change

The trainer says that investment in the future is necessary to keep the sport alive.

McNamara wants to have a big say in horse racing's future.
McNamara wants to have a big say in horse racing's future.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IT’S AS MUCH a staple of the Christmas season as sprouts and fighting with your family, so when the Leopardstown Christmas Festival gets under way today the racecourse is sure to be packed with punters hoping to get on that lucky one.

However, one Irish trainer feels that, while horse racing does lots to attract race-goers, it could be doing much more to get people involved in racehorse ownership.

This is something Robbie McNamara says would benefit the industry long-term, especially as “90% of trainers and staff are broke”.

“There’s a lot needs to be done,” the Kildare-based trainer told The42 earlier this month.

“If you wanted to go and get your licence, and you can show them you’ve a brain for finance, the Turf Club will give you a licence.

Then you buy a horse for €2,000 next week and you want to run it on the Curragh in a maiden, you could bump into a Juddmonte horse that cost €3 million.

“Racing is a bit mad like that because there’s only one division. Now, there are lots of segments to that division but, at the minute, it’s really only possible for about 15% of the country to get into racing.”

Making ownership affordable and rewarding for new owners would be top of McNamara’s priorities.

“If they opened up the lower levels, dropped the prize money — to keep the bigger owners away — and put on more races every second or third week, I think it would encourage more people to be involved.

“I’ve a horse here, for example, and for 11 and a half weeks I’ve been trying to get him to run.

“I own him myself and he’s not worth €3,000 but I can’t sell him either because I can’t justify asking an owner to buy him, pay training fees for the whole year which could come in at €15,000 for a horse that’s not worth a third of that, and then expect him to run in races he might never win.

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

Joseph O'Brien McNamara says younger trainers like Joseph O'Brien need to be at the forefront of changes. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 29-year-old says that one of racing’s biggest problems is that a lot of people near the top have little or no interest in the future of the sport because it won’t be their problem to deal with.

“I’ll keep pushing for improvements because a lot of the trainers in Ireland are aged 50-plus and they don’t want to make the big changes that are needed because they’re not going to be around in 15 years time to reap the benefits.

“But I am, and Joseph O’Brien is, and I’m going to push for as many improvements as I can, to get as many people into racing as I can and make it a bigger sport.

There’s probably more money in racing than there is in golf, Formula one, tennis, etc; you’ve all the richest people in the world involved in racing and, yet, 90% of its trainers and staff are broke. To me, that makes no sense.”

As one of the new generation of Irish trainers, McNamara is also keen to bring the sport into the 21st century and he believes the quality of racing at the top-level will only improve as new trainers come trough.

“Oh massive, massively so. I noticed that when I was riding out in Dermot Weld’s yard, there are horses that were rated at 65 eight years ago, and they’d be rated 52 now.

“That’s the level of improvement as technology come into it.

It’s like comparing George Best and Cristiano Ronaldo. Best might have been a better footballer than Ronaldo, but if they met now, Ronaldo would make a show of him because he’s much fitter and the conditions around him are so much better.

“But that doesn’t mean that George Best has any less ability than Ronaldo, it’s just that things are much more advanced now when it comes to sports science.

“I’ve loved doing research on elite performance and we try to work a lot of that into what we do with the horses here and that’s the way training is going.

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that some of the bigger trainers from seven or eight year ago are struggling now and the people who keep evolving are the ones who’ll keep going.

“You see someone like Aidan O’Brien and he’s what, 50, but he has the head of a 20-year-old because he’s still so hungry, so driven, and any improvement that can be made, he’ll be the first one on it.

“That’s the way racing is going and it’s the way every sport is going. They might be tiny improvements, but they make a massive difference when they’re all added together.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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