Millions at stake in turf war

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The British Horseracing Board (BHB), the sport's main governing body, faces a 40 per cent slump in income if it loses a pivotal court battle later this month with bookies William Hill.

The British Horseracing Board (BHB), the sport's main governing body, faces a 40 per cent slump in income if it loses a pivotal court battle later this month with bookies William Hill.

The case was referred to the Court of Appeal after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found in favour of William Hill last November. In a surprise move, it ruled that the bookmaker had not infringed the BHB's database rights by publishing runners and riders on its website. BHB chairman Martin Broughton, the former boss of British American Tobacco, said at last week's annual general meeting that he remained optimistic about the Court of Appeal hearing.

But the Court of Appeal rarely disagrees with the ECJ and, should this be the case here, it will have a knock-on effect on BHB's lucrative foreign contracts, which are worth around £17m a year or 40 per cent of the body's annual turnover.

Mr Broughton confirmed: "The William Hill court challenge was taken into consideration when most of these contracts were entered into. If BHB were ultimately to lose the case on appeal, those parties to these contracts may then give BHB notice of termination." He added that "certain Irish bookmakers" had already initiated proceedings against the BHB on the back of the ECJ ruling.

The Court of Appeal's verdict is expected either at the end of July or by mid September.

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