Double blow for racing as courses are forced to close
Local authorities have not given up hope of resurrecting Hereford and Folkestone in the future after the owners announced the closure of the racecourses at the end of 2012.
Arena Leisure and Northern Racing revealed their plans to close down both venues yesterday, although it is hoped Folkestone’s demise will only be temporary.
A short-term stay of execution appears unlikely at Hereford, though, with the track, which has been in business since 1771, operating under lease from Herefordshire County Council.
Tony Kelly, managing director of Arena and Northern Racing, said: “Hereford is owned by Herefordshire County Council and run under a lease arrangement. Attempts to extend the lease, which has 17 years remaining, have been unsuccessful.
“Despite being unviable for several years we have supported the racecourse but much-needed investment, required to breathe new life into the racecourse, cannot be justified in the absence of a long-term future for the business.”
The local authority are hoping further discussion could yield a more favourable solution, but accept the course is no longer a viable entity for its owners. A statement read: “Herefordshire Council deeply regrets the decision that Arena Leisure and Northern Racing has taken today to close the Hereford racecourse.
“At midday today representatives came to see us to inform us of their decision to close. This is the first we heard that they were going to take this decision. The lease between the council and the racecourse has a further 17 years to run and the council remains willing to discuss options with the company for the continuation of racing in Hereford.
“This is clearly a business-based decision for Arena Leisure and Northern Racing. We understand in discussion with them today that they have been running at a loss over recent years and their announcement and decision to close Hereford racecourse is based on their overall trading position.”
There is a glimmer of hope for Folkestone racegoers as the track could reopen in the future if planning permission was granted for a residential development on the site. That would result in a total revamp of the course, which Arena and Northern Racing feel is necessary to continue racing. The leader of Shepway Council, Robert Bliss, is keen to do everything possible to ensure the track reopens again in the near future. He said: “We will do everything we can to secure the long-term future of the racecourse and will explore possible solutions to the challenges raised by the planning inspector during his examination of our core strategy.”
Racecourse fixtures currently staged at Hereford and Folkestone will be transferred to other racecourses within Arena and Northern Racing. The two racecourses will be the first to shut in Britain since Great Leighs lost its licence in 2009.
Paul Bittar, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, believes racing’s “outdated” financial model is the root cause behind the closures.
He said: “While British racing is immensely popular on many levels, and enjoyed record attendances last year, the fact is that the sport’s financial model remains badly outdated. This undoubtedly makes life very difficult for all who depend on the sport for their living and it also impacts upon racecourses, particularly smaller ones.”
Hereford is leading jockey Richard Johnson’s local track and the course where he rode his first winner. He said: “It’s a massive shock. I’m really disappointed. Hereford has always been a well-attended course and I’m surprised it’s not making money. I’m sure the local people will be really disappointed.”
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