Arena warns on profits as weather puts off punters

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The Independent Online

Shares in Arena Leisure, the UK's busiest racecourse operator, fell by nearly 10 per cent yesterday after the company issued a profits warning, blaming low attendance, an early Easter and unseasonal weather.

Although the overall number of race-goers at Arena's seven courses is up by about 50 per cent on last year, the figures are skewed by the reopening of the major Doncaster course, and the company is not going to hit its targets for the year.

"We remain cautious about the ongoing impact of the current economic situation on both consumer and corporate spending and, against this backdrop, we remain vigilant, particularly with regard to the control of the race day operations' cost base," Raymond Mould, the chairman of Arena, told the annual meeting yesterday.

So far in 2008, Arena has staged 139 fixtures, nearly a third more than last year. But the number of people going to the races has not reflected the rise, while vital income from bookmakers has also been eroded because there are barely more horses racing. A number of races have as few as eight runners.

"Doncaster racecourse is in its first full year of operation after reopening and is yet to generate the attendances we had anticipated," Mr Mould said. "The track has also been weather affected with one fixture lost and the attendance at the Lincoln meeting in March badly affected by it taking place during the unusually early Easter weekend and by the extensive snowfall on both the day of the fixture and the preceding day."

But the company says that although it will miss its targets, it still expects to trade ahead of last year, and bookings for the St Leger meeting in the summer are as high as they were in 2007.