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The English page - Statistics show German racing industry still shrinking

Large crowds at the track: Boxing Day at Mülheim, but the industry is shrinking. www.galoppfoto.de - Stephanie Gruttmann


David Conolly-Smith


Ausgabe 600 vom Freitag, 10.01.2020

The Direktorium, the German racing authority, this week published statistics on the German racing and breeding industry for 2019, and they show clearly that both industries have shrunk alarmingly this century. The peak period was in the mid-1990s, after the reunification of Germany in 1990, and throughout the 1990s racing was booming, but a clear decline set in after the turn of the century.  There are various reasons for this, including the rise of internet betting and the huge increase in sports betting (which was previously illegal in Germany), both of which caused a dramatic reduction in tote on course betting turnover, one of the main financial pillars which paid for much of the racing here.

Total betting on German racing (i.e. tote on course turnover plus the amounts blown back to the course tote by German bookmakers) reached about 85 million euros (these sums all converted from the then valid DM) in 1985,  102 million euros in 1990, and then rapid expansion to almost 150 million euros in 1995. However this figure was back to 125 million euros in 2000, and then shrank rapidly to 60 million in 2005, 31 million in 2010, and last year only just over 26 million euros, i.e. less than a fifth of what it was at its peak. Last year actually showed a slight increase over 2018 and was in fat the highest amount since 2015, almost certainly due to the wise and overdue decision to reduce the take-out on win and place bets to 15%. This has certainly strengthened the on course market and the recent decision by the tax authorities to pay back the sums collected in the 5% betting tax on bookmakers betting on German races to the relevant racecourses is also very helpful. It could well be that we have now reached a plateau, albeit at a very low level, and that the figures will now start to improve. Certainly one must hope so.

The lower figures for betting turnover have also had a knock-on effect on other aspects. The number of race days is down by half and the number of races run, over 3,000 in the 1990´s, was down to 1,144 last year, back to the level of the 1960s. In the mid-1990s there were over 300 race days annually, now there are 146 (due to rise to 150 this year). The fact that four racecourses have closed, for differing reasons, has not helped either. Prize money has also suffered. In the year 2000, total prize money was almost 24 million euros, in 2019 just over 13 million euros, i.e. slightly more than half. The prize-money for most standard races in Germany is now very poor; the vast majority of listed races only have 25,000 euros, of which 13,000 goes to the winner. Most Group Three races, even at major tracks like Baden-Baden, are worth 55,000 euros, 32,000 to the winner. This is considerably less than the equivalent races in France, Ireland or even the U.K. Most Group Two races are worth 70,000 euros, 40,000 to the winner. It is therefore no surprise to see German-trained runners in action almost daily in France, especially in the summer and autumn, where there is a far better selection of races to run in but also but also at least double the prize-money. Average prize-money per race has actually increased slightly, to 11,331 euros, compared to 8,495 euros in the year 2000, but this simply keeping pace with rising costs, if that.

Despite that, racing here is generally very competitive and leading racecourses like Cologne, Düsseldorf or Hanover (not to mention the big meetings at Hamburg and Baden-Baden) attract good crowds, routinely in the upper four figures and often enough five figures. Partly of course that is because so many little meetings have been scrapped, so that every race day is now a big event.

These figures also make it clear why there are fewer owners, breeders and also professional trainers and jockeys than used to be the case. There are currently only 62 professional jockeys registered in Germany – only about half of them German-born – and just over 100 trainers, many of whom are struggling to make a living. They also explain why so many good German-bred horses are sold abroad if they show above average ability. Owners and breeders from Japan or Australia for example, where prize-money is so much higher, can afford to offer much more than the horse would be worth on the domestic German market, and few owners can resist making a profit.

The breeding industry is also affected. Last year´s BBAG Yearling Sales went very well, but about half the lots (including all the most expensive ones) went abroad. There are only 47 thoroughbred stallions registered as standing in Germany, compared to over 80 in the early years of this century. The number of mares has also dropped sharply, 1,350 last year, compared to nearly 3,000 in the year 1995. And the number of live foals has shrunk in more or less same proportion – 724 were recorded in 2019, compared to 1490 in 1995. This number is very worrying, the Direktorium´s own target is 1,2300 live foals annually. The larger German breeders have some high quality mares, but obviously the more foals are born, the better chances of a group race winner. Despite that, German-breds have been very successful on the world stage. It is not long since Danedream won the Arc and the following year the King George, and Novellist also the King George, while Protectionist won the Melbourne Cup, which was won three times in five years by offspring of Monsun. Monsun is alas no longer with us, but there are still plenty of his daughters around, and they continue to do well. So do sons of his at stud, particularly in British and Irish N.H. racing – NetworkShirocco and Getaway to name just three.

All is not doom and gloom, and although 2019 was a very disappointing season from the German point of view, the best German-breds continue to deliver the goods, as for example last year´s Arc winner Waldgeist, 75% owned by Gestüt Ammerland and out of a Monsun mare from a top German family, while the top German 2yo´s of 2019 looked very promising. Things are currently at a low ebb, but the tide can change quickly in thoroughbred racing and breeding and 2020 could well be a much better year.

David Conolly-Smith

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