Bookies the biggest losers as action freezes

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The Independent Online

Despite those running the racecourse Ffos Las clinging to the faint hope that the Welsh track may stage some sport on Saturday, the bookmakers William Hill believe that it's odds-on the next jump racing in Britain will not take place until a week later. The meeting at Kempton on 16 January is 4-5 favourite to resume the traditional winter game.

Over the last few weeks, fans and professionals have had to make do increasingly with low-grade Flat fare on an artificial surface and yesterday even that so-called "all-weather" racing failed to beat the snow.

An outdoor sport in the middle of winter can and does expect weather-related hold-ups. A prolonged break would be a concern but a freeze on the action of a couple of weeks is primarily a matter of deep frustration. Trainers have yards full of thwarted equine athletes, jockeys miss their riding fees, owners miss their fun. Racecourses don't have customers. But financially, it is bookmakers who miss out most, though probably garner least sympathy. "When it snows, we suffer," said Ladbrokes' David Williams. "There are alternatives for punters, but racing is the heartbeat of our business and 2009 ended on such a high, with Kauto Star and the other big names generating great narratives. But in 2010 that great run has stopped dead. It's frustrating to the point of being annoying."

A lost high-profile Saturday meeting costs the betting industry something like £1m, with a knock-on loss to the Levy that provides racing industry funding. Before Christmas, Ascot lost a prestige meeting that offered some £400,000 prize-money and would have attracted more than 20,000 racegoers. "It would have been profitable," said the course's Nick Smith, "but though losing it was not good, it wasn't a killer. Most courses budget for the likelihood of losing a couple of meetings in the winter. It's frustrating more than anything."

For the South Wales trainer Evan Williams that factor is top of the scale. "Ten out of 10," he said. "I've got horses here who need to be running as part of their programme, particularly the novices, who need to get experience, and then the double whammy will be that when the weather does break there'll be so many wanting to run there'll be ballotings out.

"But on a day-to-day basis we cope. There's extra work, getting the yard and walkways gritted. But we can keep the horses moving, we've got an all-weather strip and lunging rings and walkers. If the snow is deep enough we can get round the fields. And we're lucky enough to be able to get to the beach, which is actually a bonus as it's a change of routine and the riders and horses both enjoy it."

Cancelled racing

Mon Lingfield, Wetherby.

Tues Leicester, Taunton.

Wed Hexham, Kempton, Lingfield, Southwell.

Thurs Huntingdon, Ludlow.

Fri Bangor, Fontwell.

Sat Sedgefield, Wincanton.

Sun Hereford.