The UK's biggest horseracing operator today warned this year's profits would take a fall as hard-pressed punters stay away from the track.
Arena Leisure - whose seven venues include courses at Wolverhampton, Worcester and Doncaster - said like-for-like attendances between July and mid-October were down on last year as the economic slowdown bites.
With those who do come spending less - and sales of corporate hospitality packages falling steeply - profits will be "significantly below" market hopes.
Its Doncaster track boasts the St Leger, the oldest of the UK's classic races, but the attendance over the four-day festival in September was down by 7,000 to 59,000.
Shares in Arena slumped by as much as third at one point as analysts tore up consensus forecasts of £5.1 million in pre-tax profits this year.
Arena also warned the current disappointing attendance and spending trends "are likely to continue" during the final quarter of the year.
Since mid-October attendances and revenues at Wolverhampton's Friday and Saturday meetings have fallen below hopes, the group said.
Excluding the effect of Doncaster, which reopened in August 2007, total attendances increased only modestly despite the closure of Worcester and Southwell courses last year due to flood damage.
Sales of lucrative corporate and private packages have fallen from 51,300 to 45,600 over the year so far. Although demand has now stabilised, Arena has also seen "price resistance" and down-trading by customers, particularly at Royal Windsor.
The firm is cutting its cloth to protect profits in the climate of lower attendances, adding that a plan to "materially reduce" costs at Doncaster racecourse was in progress.
Debts however remain at "manageable levels" and the firm has sufficient funds in place to complete the construction of a new hotel scheme at Lingfield Park.
But Numis Securities analyst Richard Carter said: "We have reduced our pre-tax profit forecast for 2008 by 34% to £3.5 million and 2009 by 39% to £3.5 million, which assumes a weak fourth quarter and no improvement in 2009 trading."