All bets are off: Is British horse racing in trouble?

Is horse racing industry in trouble?
Is horse racing industry in trouble?   

For British horse racing enthusiasts, summer is the start of The Season – the time to don on your best frock and fancy hats. While the Epsom Derby, which starts Friday, might be perfect for a fashion parade, the U.K. horse racing industry isn't looking in as good a shape.

With nearly 6 million people attending more than 1,400 race meetings last year and an annual betting turnover of £10 billion ($15 billion), according to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), everything may appear lucrative for the "sport of kings."

However the British Horseracing Authority is warning of a £120 million ($185 million) in income by 2018 if the industry doesn't meet a series of challenges.

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Nick Rust, chief executive of the BHA said at the association's conference in May: "Our industry is more than just our sport, but as many know, if you look underneath the bonnet there are some real issues that we have to face. In three years' time, we might have a £120 million pound shortfall in the income coming to our sport."

Among the issues the industry has to tackle include a 7 percent decline since 2010 in horses being trained, owners not receiving enough financial return, and dwindling attendance levels at meetings.

Charlie Crowhurst | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

U.K. newspaper The Telegraph reported last month, that one in five racecourses could face potential closure if business doesn't improve. In the last few years, for example, both Hereford and Folkestone racecourse have closed.

To counteract the shortfalls in the industry, the UK authority has announced a program covering six fundamental "pillars": customer growth, horse ownership, betting, ultra high net worth, regulation and welfare.

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The authority is adamant on improving growth numbers, setting targets of increasing betting participation by 5 percent by 2018, and getting attendance levels up to 7 million by 2020, compared to last year's 5.8 million.

In addition, the BHA hopes to get 1,000 new horses trained by 2020, and make the industry more attractive on its welfare aspect to potential employees.

To help increase the number of punters, the BHA hopes to boost its media coverage and sponsorship; whilst trying to reverse negative trends in the betting sector.

Betting for the sport has seen a £400 million drop in total sales revenue in the last 10 years, so the BHA hope to create a "racing and betting forum" where leaders from racing, betting and the media can examine how to improve betting participation in the sport.

"This is a sport that matters a lot to the British public, and we owe it to the sport, ourselves and the wider British public to come together and work towards that growth" Rust said.

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