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Equine Flu Has Shut Down Britain’s Horse Racing This Weekend

Paul Jarvis
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Equine Flu Has Shut Down Britain’s Horse Racing This Weekend

(Bloomberg) -- All bets are off in the U.K. this weekend -- at least at the country’s horse-racing tracks.

An outbreak of equine flu means the sport remains shut down, as it has been since Thursday. Governing body, the British Horseracing Authority, says there will be no resumption until Wednesday at the earliest while tests are conducted on thoroughbreds across the country.

For bookmakers William Hill Plc, Paddy Power Betfair Plc, and Ladbrokes owner GVC Holdings Plc, the cancellations are a blow, though maybe not a major one. For now at least, the industry’s period of inactivity is a relatively short one, while customers can still place wagers on events in other countries, virtual races and sports including Premier League soccer.

“While the loss of U.K. horse racing is a negative, substitution into other products is likely,” Goodbody analysts wrote in a note. Unlike in the case of poor weather, “football and other U.K. sports are also taking place.”

The impact on the major betting groups will be lessened because U.K. horse racing is diminishing in its importance to them, accounting for at most 10 percent of revenue at Paddy Power Betfair, 9 percent at GVC and 15 percent at William Hill, according to Goodbody.

William Hill is “very confident” of being able to withstand a period of no U.K. racing without “too much impact,” spokesman Ciaran O’Brien said by phone.

That period is currently a brief one. In total, the confirmed six days of the shutdown cover 23 meetings and 152 races. To put that into perspective, the first quarter of 2018 saw 317 races cancelled due to adverse weather, according to Goodbody.

Bigger Concern

The possibility of a longer cessation is a far bigger concern, especially with the lucrative Cheltenham Festival little more than four weeks away. In 2001, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease on the eve of the showpiece event saw it called off, though analysts say it is too early to speculate on the length of the current shutdown.

The BHA said Friday that three more horses have been diagnosed with equine flu at the stable that first reported the outbreak. While no positive samples have been reported anywhere else, an unconfirmed “suspicious case” has been identified at a separate yard, it said.

The governing body plans to make an announcement on Monday about whether it is safe for racing to resume and that is likely to be key for share prices that have fallen 2 percent to 5 percent since the shutdown was enforced.

“The risk is more of an extended cancellation, rather than an outsized impact of the current one week cancellation,” Morgan Stanley analysts led by Ed Young wrote in a note.

(Updates with latest BHA statement in ninth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Thomas Seal and Lisa Pham.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Jarvis in London at pjarvis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at cperri@bloomberg.net, John Viljoen, Jon Menon

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