All bets off in Italy as horseracing flags

Wed May 27, 2009 9:10pm EDT
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By Nigel Tutt

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's once high-flying horseracing industry is flagging, with bets shrinking and prime horseflesh leaving, and the sector has turned to the government for a rescue plan.

Once a prestige sport bankrolled by industrialists and status seekers, horserace bets were down 16 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, bucking an overall upturn in the nearly 50 billion euro Italian betting market.

Stands are often half-empty at such tracks as Milan's San Siro, and Italian course attendance was down 20 percent in the first fourth months of the year, according to industry figures.

Industry executives said Italian horseracing was handicapped by too many tracks, shrinking stables, falling quality of horses and an aging bettor base.

"There are not the big racehorse owners as there were at one time. Twenty or 30 years ago to have a champion racehorse was a status symbol," according to Giovanni Fava, a spokesman for Snai SpA, Italy's top horse race company.

"Now those who want to get involved in sport do so with a soccer team or in Formula One (motor racing)," he said.

One sign of the downturn is a horse such as the ex-Italian trained Gladiatorus.

After a highly successful two-year-old career in Italy, he was bought by Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed al Maktoum and left the country to race in the Emirates where he won the $5 million Dubai Duty Free race earlier this year.   Continued...

<p>A woman makes her bets at the San Siro horseracing center in Milan May 23, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>