Nearly two years ago RTE's Conor McMorrow wrote a piece entitled "Unease in Irish racing industry over Brexit hurdle". The story ended with Irish trainer Dermot Weld saying:
"When we had the original old border, there was always the danger when you brought horses to the North that they could be held up for a while. That's a long time ago. We don't need that again. We need free borders." Those comments sum up the views of an entire industry, if not an entire country".
Last night, following a Commons defeat on the Withdrawal Agreement, the United Kingdom government is no closer to securing a deal with the European Union once the country leave the trading bloc on the 29th of March this year.
To say this is a problem for the horse racing industry, indeed almost every business on the island of Ireland, would be an understatement. As of today, the use of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules or a hard BREXIT, seems to be the most likely outcome, something that would not have been expected in June 2016.
This week, well-known Irish trainer Ted Walsh added to the debate and said on BREXIT that:
"We rely on them (the UK). They have been good neighbours but we rely on them for most of our exports, a lot of imports and a lot of jobs for people".
There is probably not a sport on this island that is as connected as horse racing when it comes to the relationship between Ireland and the UK. As Walsh says, Ireland exports a large volume of product to the UK. The breeding industry is largely dependent upon UK customers. The reverse is also true; buyers in the UK depend on Ireland to breed horses. Ireland also exports labour to the UK in the form of jockeys, trainers, stable staff, etc.
The relationship is further underlined by Horse Racing Ireland's (HRI) governance of both Down Royal and Down Patrick, two races courses located in Northern Ireland that are managed and partially funded by the Irish semi-state HRI.
And on a practical level consider this. The 2019 Cheltenham Festival starts on the 12th of March this year. One of the great aspects of the event in the past decade or so has been the English vs Irish dynamic to the races. The crowd is also littered with sports tourists from this island and the term "Irish invasion" is often used to describe the volume of Irish that attend the Cotswolds. People and horses will travel freely again this year.
Less than 4 weeks later, the Grand National Festival will start. Last year the first 4 horses in the race were Irish trained. Will this be the case this year in a post-EU Britain? Hardly if things keep going they way they are.
Cheltenham will be the same this year. Aintree might not be. Everyone will lose if this is the case.