With only 79 days until the UK is pencilled in to leave the European Union, horse racing stakeholders continue to make preparations in anticipation of potential disruptions to the sport and further impacts on betting markets.
The Financial Times reported this morning that a no-deal Brexit – which at present appears to be the UK’s likely outcome – will threaten the horse racing sector according to Peter Jackson, Chief Executive of Flutter Entertainment (formerly Paddy Power Betfair).
Jackson warned that a failure to reach a trade deal with the European Union will hit the sector hard in terms of the movement of horses, implying that barriers to free movement would impact the 1,500 race meetings held in the UK.
“I do have some concerns about horses being able to travel backwards between UK and Ireland — it is a real risk to the horse racing industry,” said Jackson, commenting on the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit.
The current racing calendar is estimated to generate £11.5bn in bets for UK bookmakers, so it’s safe to say that any barriers to the movement of horses will have severe knock-on effects.
But despite the warning, the sector as a whole has emphasised that safeguarding measures are in fact in place to deal with a no-deal situation.
“Saying there will be a problem with Irish runners at the Grand National, or English runners at Punchestown, I don’t see it happening,” said David Redvers, racing manager of Qatar Racing.
“The people . . . claiming to be concerned about [a no-deal Brexit], by and large, have vested interests and see it through Irish eyes, where they see Brexit as a disaster, rather than the realistic outcome, which is no one wants there to be a difficulty of transporting horses between Ireland, Britain, France and Europe. The entire industry will work together to overcome that.”
As it stands the UK, France and Ireland are a part of the Tripartite Agreement, in which the freedom of movement for horses without long delays at borders is guaranteed. Back in 2017, racehorses were moved across the borders over 26,000 times under the terms of the legislation, however, a no-deal will put the agreement to the test.
Will Lambe, the executive director of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) addressed that while the government has outlined plans to not carry out additional checks on racehorses entering the UK, the BHA was working alongside its French and Irish counterparts to ensure that there would not be any issues for horses travelling out of the UK.
“The principle movement would be around thoroughbred auctions. We want to continue to attract the best thoroughbreds to race here and for breeding,” he said.
From a trading perspective, analysts have estimated that bets placed on horse racing via Flutter’s sportsbook account for 40 per cent of total bets, due to its popularity on the Betfair betting exchange.
With a potential hindrance to the movement of horses across the borders, interest in horse racing among punters could dwindle due to smaller fields, resulting in smaller margins for bookmakers.
Greg Johnson, an analyst at Shore Capital, added: “If it’s harder for horses to come over you are going to have smaller horse racing fields so the favourite will win more often.”
Ideas of a snap-election, a trade deal with the US, and even a shutdown of Parliament are all being placed on the table as of late, meaning that scope for the horse racing industry is still unclear.