Arena under starter's orders for £200m sale

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The Independent Online

Bidders for the racecourse operator Arena Leisure have been told they will have to pay close to £200m to win control of the company.

The company, whose tracks include Doncaster, home to the St Leger, Royal Windsor and Lingfield Park, confirmed yesterday that it was "reviewing possible options" which could lead to a sale.

But a deal would be all but impossible without the consent of its leading shareholder, Trevor Hemmings, who holds a 41.5 per cent stake.

Mr Hemmings – who won his second Grand National as an owner this year with Ballabriggs, trained by Donald McCain – has become frustrated at the lacklustre performance of the group's shares despite developments such as a £106m media rights deal and the winning of a catering contract for the Olympics.

He is therefore open to a sale of the business, and Arena's new chairman, David Thorpe, has called in bankers at Investec, which sponsors the Derby, to review options.

The shares closed up 4.75p at 36.88p yesterday, but Mr Hemmings believes they are worth between 60p and 70p, putting a minimum price of nearly £200m on the business.

The property magnates David and Simon Reuben will be the short-priced favourite if the business is put on the block. They hold nearly 30 per cent of Arena's shares and have long harboured ambitions to combine the group with Northern Racing, which they took over in 2007.

The two groups combined would create a formidable operation accounting for just over half of Britain's horseracing fixtures, including those at three of the country's four all-weather tracks.

Northern's nine courses include Chepstow, home of the Welsh National, Uttoxeter and Newcastle. Northern also manages the Ffos Llas racecourse in Wales.

However, such a deal could generate controversy in the horseracing industry as both Arena and Northern have faced criticism over the levels of prize moneyat their tracks.

A spokesman for the Reuben Brothers declined to comment.