Sunday, 16 March 2014

Greece's thoroughbreds at risk as racing industry sinks

Hundreds of thoroughbreds may be within a few months of the knacker's yard unless Greece quickly privatises the body responsible for horse racing. So says Greece's Jockey Club, along with the associations of racehorse owners and trainers.

Even Hellenic Horserace Betting Organisation - the body that stands to be dissolved once its sole license to organise races and wagers is auctioned off - is asking the government to hurry up. It is the first time since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 that Greece's beleaguered privatisation authorities, which have struggled to raise 2.6bn euros against a target of 11bn, have been asked by state companies to hurry things along.

The reason is that if they don't, horse racing, and the bookmaking industry that supports it, could collapse due to a lack of owners able to field horses. Racehorses' income is a cut of the bets placed on them when they win. Bookmaking turnover on Greek races has plummeted from 336 million euros in 2002 to 31 million euros last year.

The economic crisis has made it so difficult to come up with the roughly 500 euros a month that stabling, feeding and medical bills amount to, that owners have been giving the horses up for adoption. Their numbers have declined from just under two thousand before the crisis to 448 at the end of February, says the Jockey Club.

Now, however, Greece's charities and willing adopters of horses are so saturated with the beasts that the remaining number will not be lucky enough to be re-homed. "They will most likely face slaughter," says Foteini Emiri of the Jockey Club.

Many trainers have been forced to adopt horses abandoned by owners, and some have resorted to sleeping above their stalls, diverting all their resources towards feeding and caring for the beasts. "These horses would die if they were put out to pasture," says Emiri. "They are not like the hardy indigenous species. They need a high-nutrition diet and stabling."The horses consume ten kilos of alfalfa and cereals a day.

The Hellenic Horseracing Betting Organisation is undertaking very little promotion, pending its long-delayed privatisation. Attendance is down and revenues from bookmakers are plummeting. A punishing tax on horse owners has seen almost a thousand horses given away since 2010.

The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, in charge of privatisations, says it has rescheduled the sale for September. Two bidders, Greece's Intralot and France's PMU, have expressed interest. 

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