Statistics for 2008 show that activity in the Irish horse racing industry shrank for the first time in more than 15 years. The industry body Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) said the effects of the economic downturn, as well as bad weather conditions, hit the sector in the second half of 2008. It said that while participation in the sport grew to a record level and prize money also rose, most of the other main figures fell. Attendances were down 9 percent from 2007's record to just under 1.4 million, with more than half of the drop blamed on canceled meetings. The most dramatic decline was in bloodstock sales, which dropped by almost 44 percent to €99.5 million. On-course betting turnover also fell by 18 percent, with betting at bookmakers down 21.5 percent. The tote fared a little better, with a drop of 10 percent. Last year, Horse Racing Ireland announced plans for cost cuts in response to the weaker economy and a reduction in funding for the industry announced in the budget. These included lower prize money, a pay freeze for HRI staff and no money for new racecourse developments. HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh warned that the 16,500 people working in the industry needed to "brace themselves" for tough times ahead. He also called for the racing industry to become self-financing, through a "meaningful" levy on betting. Kavanagh said this should include all off-shore Internet and telephone betting, which he said had "wrongly escaped the taxation net" so far.
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